New Zealand parliament recently passed a law granting employees 10 days of extra paid leave each year for victims of domestic violence to change their living situations and not lose their jobs. According to some U.S. statistics, one in four women and one in nine men are victims of intimate partner violence every year. This likely means that someone in your workforce has either suffered domestic violence or has a family member who has. It goes without saying that this type of crime can cause workplace production problems—but what is an employer required to do if an employee is a victim?
Under the FMLA, if an employee suffers a physical injury as a result of intimate partner violence, he or she is entitled, as with any other medical condition, to unpaid leave. This would also include intermittent leave. The employee may still be required to provide the required medical certification and would have to meet the eligibility qualifications (i.e., 12 months of work, 1250 hours in the last 12 months, 50 employees at the worksite or within 75 miles).
Several jurisdictions also have laws protecting victims of domestic violence:
- In Florida, employees who work for an employer with 50 or more employees can request and take up to three days of leave per year if the employee or family member of the employee is a victim of domestic violence. The leave may be unpaid, and the employer is required to keep all information about the leave confidential.
- In North Carolina, an employee is protected from retaliation if the employee takes “reasonable time off” to obtain a protective order or some other sort of relief from domestic violence.
- In the District of Columbia, employees meeting certain criteria for domestic violence situations may even be entitled to paid leave.
Other states have specific crime victim job protection laws that may cover victims of domestic violence. Mississippi, Arkansas and Alabama have statutes protecting employees’ jobs if they need time off because they are a victim of a crime and have to respond to a subpoena or prepare for court proceedings. Tennessee has a statute protecting state agency employees against adverse employment actions if the employee is helping to prosecute a perpetrator of an offense against that employee.
Many employers have an array of policies that could help employees who disclose a domestic violence issue. You should always check to see what is available, and make sure your employees are aware of their options.
- Leave – Be sure your employees know that they can take whatever leave applies. It could be characterized as personal, paid time off, vacation, sick, court, or something else.
- Donated Leave – If you have a way for other employees to donate paid leave, an employee who is the victim of domestic violence may want to ask for consideration.
- Employee Assistance Programs – Your EAP may provide legal assistance or counseling.
- Security in the Workplace – Find out whether you should take steps to ensure that the alleged abuser does not cause an issue at work. This could include alerting security or the local police. Some victims may ask if they can bring a gun to work or leave one in their car. While you can follow your company’s policies (and state laws) regarding weapons in the workplace, be sure to fully consider the security of the victim and your other employees.
Since domestic violence is so prevalent in our society, employers should be prepared to deal with the fallout that comes with this unfortunate situation. Beyond physical injuries, there may be post-traumatic stress and mental health issues that arise due to a violent home life. Although you may not be required by law to provide paid or unpaid leave, employers should be mindful that empathy and patience may not only provide some peace to a troubled employee, but also boost the morale and loyalty of the workforce.