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Domestic Violence in the Workplace, Part II

Updated on March 23, 2012

Business Leaders Can Make a Difference

Often employers have a tough time dealing with issues of domestic violence in the workplace. They both try to ignore that there is a problem and hope it just goes away, or they take the wrong steps to help the victim of domestic violence and actually make the situation worse. In defense of employers, domestic violence is one of those areas of violence that most people don’t understand and they don’t understand for several reasons. One, the victim hides the fact that he or she (most often the female is a victim of domestic violence, but it does affect males as well), is being abused so it becomes difficult to detect. Secondly, domestic violence is one of those crimes that people don’t want to know that it exists. It is easier to turn a blind eye to the situation and not want to get involved. It is seen as a “family issue” and we shouldn’t interfere. There is also the fact that, until recently, there really haven’t been too many resources to fall back on or to use for helping a victim.

Thankfully, today there is more awareness, more resources, and more of a desire on the part of the public to help end domestic violence. Employers are one of the last groups to become aware of and provide resources for victims of domestic violence. In my previous piece on domestic violence, I shared the three things employers can do today to begin helping victims of domestic violence. These are simple to implement and there is no reason why every business leader that has employees should not do so today. But, if there are employers on the fence about putting things in place for the victims (we now call them survivors) of domestic violence – domestic violence policy, domestic violence training, and assigning a point person, which is all free--- then perhaps the following information might help to light a fire and get them moving.

The dollar amount spent by employers for liability related to domestic violence is staggering. As of this writing, the average lawsuit against an employer is $1.8 million with average settlements around the $850,000 mark. There are many lawsuits still pending related to domestic violence and workplace safety. The tragedy of a lost life is bad enough, but when an employer has to also deal with a costly lawsuit, possible jail time, and extreme damage to a reputation, it becomes unbearable.

Don’t think it can’t happen to you just because the domestic violence started out “domestic” or in the home. Besides the fact that you as an employer should have noticed the changes in the employee or seen warning signs of danger for the victim and the business, you are also mandated by certain laws and governmental regulations. For example, under the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA), you have a general duty clause to follow that states, “Each employer shall furnish to each of his employees employment and a place of employment which are free from recognized hazards that are causing death or serious physical harm to his employees.” This is governed by the U.S. Department of Labor.

OSHA has the authority to fine up to $7,000 for every safety violation they find. These add up quickly if an investigation shows that you knew there might have been a safety issue related to domestic violence with one of your employees. Also, if it is determined that there was a willful and intentional neglect of a threat, such as one you knew of stated by the abuser, you as the employer could be declared responsible and face prison time.

If the victim has a civil protective order or an injunction, and it is ignored, the employer is liable for any resulting damages. Also, the Family Medical Leave Act may come into play if the employer didn’t provide time off for psychological reasons. The employer can get into trouble by ignoring rules under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which clearly states that “reasonable accommodations” will be made for employees requiring special accommodations. If the victim of domestic violence is harmed either physically or mentally, and requests these accommodations, the employer will have to provide it.

Other governmental laws and/or regulations that have been used in court against employers related to employees that were victims of domestic violence include civil laws, discrimination under Title VII, public policy, and Worker’s Compensation. In most of these cases, the employer lost because lawsuits were based on broad scopes of negligent hiring, negligent supervision, and negligent retention. The best defense is to begin now providing a domestic violence policy, learning about domestic violence: how to recognize it, how to respond, and how to refer resources, and assigning a point person for the survivor of domestic violence to go to in confidence.


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