What Are Employers’ Obligations to Victims of Domestic Violence?

September 18, 2017

Topics: Employment Policies and Practices

The effects of domestic violence often extend beyond the home and into the workplace.  An employee who is a victim of domestic violence may be distracted or less productive at work due to fear, stress or injuries.  He or she may need time off from work for medical care, counseling or court hearings.  The abuser may harass the victim at work by phone or email, or may show up at the victim’s workplace.  In the worst case scenario, the abuser may cause physical harm or death to the victim and others in the workplace.

What obligations, if any, does an employer have toward an employee who is a victim of domestic violence?

In New York, employers have three legal responsibilities toward employees who are victims of domestic violence:

  1. employers may not discriminate against victims of domestic violence, or make decisions regarding hiring, firing or any term or condition of employment based on an employee’s status as a victim of domestic violence;
  2. employers must provide employees who are victims of domestic violence with reasonable accommodations, such as wheelchair access for an employee injured by an abuser; and
  3. employers must provide employees who are victims of domestic violence with leave (which can be unpaid) to attend court hearings related to the abuse or for medical care for physical or psychological injuries caused by the abuse.

Employers also should have policies and procedures in place to try to protect their employees from violence in the workplace.  Such policies may include prohibiting unauthorized visitors on work premises, prohibiting employees from sharing or copying their keys or access cards, requiring employees to report any unauthorized person on site, requiring employees to immediately report any threats or acts of violence, and banning weapons in the workplace.

Employers who become aware that an employee is a victim of domestic violence may choose to take additional steps, such as alerting security personnel, providing security personnel with the name and photo of the abuser, screening calls or visitors to the employee, providing the employee with a more secure parking spot, or changing the employee’s work location or hours.  Employers must balance any such steps with the employee’s right to privacy and confidentiality.

Employers may also choose to provide employees with training to raise awareness of the issue of domestic violence, how to recognize symptoms in co-workers and how to respond to an employee who is a victim of domestic violence.

Employers should consult with counsel regarding employment policies and practices that best address the needs of the company while complying with federal, state and local laws applicable to the company’s place of business.