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How Domestic Violence Affects the Workplace

Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice was indicted in March by a grand jury for assaulting his fiancé (now wife). San Francisco 49er defensive end Ray McDonald was arrested on August 31 for felony domestic abuse. Evidently, domestic violence has become a problem in the NFL.

Unfortunately, it’s not just a problem there. The Alliance Against Family Violence and Sexual Assault reports that the Bakersfield Police Department received 3,989 calls pertaining to domestic violence in 2013 resulting in 1,881 arrests. The Kern County Sheriff’s Department received 2,997 calls resulting in 1,716 arrests. The Alliance itself served 2,293 clients in fiscal year 2013-2014. Those numbers only include the people who actually sought help; they do not include domestic violence victims who never picked up the phone.

Although domestic violence usually occurs away from the workplace, it can become a workplace issue when the perpetrator or the victim is employed. What follows is information about employers’ options when employing the perpetrator and obligations when employing the victim.

Employers who discover that an employee was convicted of domestic violence may legally discipline the employee for the crime even when it was committed on the employee’s own time away from the workplace if there is some connection between the crime and the employee’s job.

How is this legal? California Labor Code 96 says that employers generally may not discipline employees for lawful conduct that occurs during nonworking hours away from the employer’s premises. However, if the conduct is illegal, there is a conviction, and there is a legitimate business reason for doing so, employers generally have the right to discipline employees, including termination, for their misconduct (be sure to have a policy in place that lets employees know this).

Why would an employer want to discipline an employee for being convicted of domestic violence? If the employee is in an occupation that is supposed to help people, such as counseling, social work, teaching, home health care, ministry, or human resources, a domestic violence conviction undermines that employee’s ability to do his or her job. Thus, retaining such employees could negatively impact the employer’s business.

Having said that, terminating the perpetrator might not be the best choice because it could also adversely affect the victim. “Many victims of domestic violence are wholly or heavily dependent on their abusive partner’s income. Unemployment for him will likely mean more hardship for her and her children, if she has children,” said Vera E. Mouradian, a social psychologist and research scientist.

Therefore, the best course of action is probably one that includes the requirement that the perpetrator receive some form of counseling in order to remain employed.

Employers who discover that an employee is a victim of domestic violence are legally required to allow the employee time off of work to testify in court and obtain protection such as restraining orders. Additionally, employers with 25 or more employees are legally required to provide time off for the employee to seek medical attention, obtain services, obtain psychological counseling, and participate in safety planning related to the domestic violence. Employees must give reasonable notice for needing the time off and can be required to use vacation, personal leave, or comp time during the time away from work.

Also, employers who are aware that an employee has been a victim of domestic violence should consider increasing their security to protect the victim and other employees. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 21% of all work-related homicides of women (and 3% of work-related homicides of men) were caused by a relative or intimate partner in 2012.

Domestic violence becomes a workplace issue when the perpetrator or the victim is employed. If you don’t have them already, my advice is to put a plan and policies in place to handle the issue before it happens. Because October 1 marks the beginning of Domestic Violence Awareness Month, now is the perfect time to do so.

Disclaimer: The information and resources provided herein are not a substitute for experienced legal counsel and does not constitute legal advice or attempt to address the numerous factual issues that inevitably arise in any employment-related dispute. Although this information attempts to cover some major recent developments, it is not all-inclusive, and any recommendations are based upon HR best practices and procedures. We recommend you consult an attorney for legal guidance.

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