Domestic Violence in the Workplace Awareness MonthDomestic violence is a serious, recognizable and often preventable situation similar to other workplace health and safety issues that affect businesses. Many employers may believe that domestic violence is a private family matter that has no place in the workplace, and/or that their company does not need to address domestic violence. Unbeknownst to many, domestic violence can and does affect the workplace. Domestic Violence can exact a tremendous toll on the individuals it affects directly, and it can compromise the safety of both victims and their co-workers as well. Sometimes the workplace may be the only avenue of respite for a victim, other times it may be a co-worker is the perpetrator. Regardless of the way abuse manifests itself, if employers wait to address domestic violence in the workplace until it happens, they have waited far too long.

What is Domestic Violence?

Domestic violence is a pattern of coercive behavior, including acts or threatened acts, that is used by a perpetrator to gain power and control over a current or former spouse, family member, intimate partner, or person with whom the perpetrator shares a child in common. It includes, but is not limited to, physical violence, injury, or intimidation, sexual violence or abuse, emotional and/or psychological intimidation, verbal abuse, threats, or harassment, stalking or economic control. Domestic violence crosses economic, educational, cultural, age, gender, racial and religious lines and can occur in a wide variety of contexts. There is a common misconception that physical abuse must occur for domestic violence to be present, but emotional abuse is often a precursor to physical abuse and is harder to identify.

Statistics on Domestic Violence in the Workplace

On average, four to five women are murdered by their husbands or boyfriends each day in the United States, and women experience two million injuries from intimate partner violence each year.[1]  In 1995, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention estimated the annual cost of lost productivity due to domestic violence is $727.8 million (in 1995

dollars) with more than 7.9 million paid workdays lost each year.  Last year, domestic violence accounted for 27% of violent events in the workplace last year according to the U.S. Department of Labor,.[2]

More than 70% of United States workplaces do not have a formal program or policy that addresses domestic violence (or workplace violence).[3]  Workplace violence policies and programs are more prevalent in larger private establishments or the government sector.  Only 20% of companies offer training on domestic violence.[4]

Employer’s Response

Employers should be proactive and preventive in addressing domestic violence in the workplace. They can do this through establishing domestic violence policies separate from a workplace violence prevention plan or a harassment policy, and provide mandatory training for managers and supervisors on how to recognize and respond to signs of domestic violence. Most importantly, employers should be aware of their obligations towards domestic violence victims under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act (“Title VII”), the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”), and the Occupational Safety and Health Act (“OSHA”).

When creating your organization’s policy, it is important to cover multiple areas, many that will likely be unique to your business culture. An employment attorney can help you develop a domestic violence policy that should acknowledge domestic violence happens, it may impact the workplace, and that employers will do what they can to accommodate those experiencing it. It should acknowledge that employees will not be penalized for seeking help through discrimination or retaliatory measures. It should address privacy and confidentiality issues for both victims and perpetrators. It should also discuss the safety and security measures that should be engaged. It should address the reasonable accommodation for those having temporary difficulties fulfilling job responsibilities and assistance measures that an employer offers. A domestic violence policy should further encourage other employees to report incidents of domestic violence to a designated person on staff.

For workers who are alleged or suspected of committing non-workplace violence, an employer should consider requiring the employee to report the incident to his or her human resources department, conduct its own investigation into the matter, and require the employee to participate in the investigation. In the event non-workplace violence is found to have occurred, the employer can subject the employee to disciplinary action up to and including termination. The policy should also prohibit any employee for using any workplace resources, such as work time, phones, emails, computers, fax machines, or other means to threaten, harass, intimidate, embarrass or otherwise harm another person.

Title VII, ADA, and OSHA on Domestic Violence in the Workplace

If an employer subjects an employee to different treatment or terminates an employee after learning he or she has been the victim of domestic violence due to the domestic violence, they may face a lawsuit under Title VII. Further, if a victim of domestic violence requests reasonable accommodation under the ADA for medical conditions resulting from a domestic violence incident and an employer denies that request, they could be sued under the ADA. OSHA requires employers to maintain a safe workplace, and a refusal by an employer to assist the employee in enforcing a domestic violence protective order, could be a violation of the General Duty clause under the Act. Hiring an attorney to help draft and implement policies, procedures, and training for key personnel that are compliant with Title VII, the ADA and OSHA can help prevent these types of lawsuits.

If you have questions, contact Sodoma Law today at 704.442.0000 or email us at attorney@sodomalaw.com

[1] National Resource Center, The Facts on the Workplace and Domestic Violence, http://www.nrcdv.org/

[2] U.S. Department of Labor, DOL Workplace Violence Program, https://www.dol.gov/oasam/hrc/policies/dol-workplace-violence-program.htm

[3] National Resource Center, The Facts on the Workplace and Domestic Violence, http://www.nrcdv.org/

[4] Research conducted by Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) 2013.