If you had to define domestic violence, what would you say? Would you describe it as something that happens “at home”, behind closed doors, ” a private matter”? Many people have — and would. Do you think of domestic violence as a workplace matter? If you don’t, your thinking may be outdated. If you are a business owner, executive or manager, that thinking may cost you and your company dearly. This week at The EmpLAWyerologist we will look at how domestic violence affects the workplace — and the employer, and some steps you can take to address it…after the jump…
(image from hrmonline.com.au)
So, how do you define domestic violence? How’s this for a concise definition: mental, physical, sexual or economic abuse by one intimate partner to control the other. There it is again, that word, “intimate”–with its connotations of privacy. What then makes domestic violence a matter for employers? Simply put, domestic violence is increasingly leaving the home–and coming to work. Many of you out there can attest to the fact that domestic violence does impact the workplace and employers. Here are just a few ways in which it does:
- According to one statistic, in a study by EDK Associates in 1997, 24% of women between ages 18 and 65 had experienced domestic violence; 74% of employed battered women were harassed by their partner while at work, causing 56% of them to be late for work at least 5 times each month and 54% to miss at least 3 full days of work each month;
- In a 1992 study by Pennsylvania Blue Shield Institute, 44% of executives surveyed said that domestic violence increased their health care costs;
- 94% of corporate security employees surveyed in National Safe Workplace Society Study from 1995 ranked domestic violence as a high security problem;
Now, I realize the above-cited studies are not exactly the most recent, but they certainly are instructive. Chances are the numbers now are higher. It is doubtful that those numbers are less today. What are some other ways in which domestic violence affects the workplace and employers? You can assume with injury and a greater number and frequency of absences, comes lower productivity. That lower productivity, by the way, does not only apply to those targeted by domestic violence. Lower productivity can spread to co-workers who feel threatened by a perpetrator. If you have an employee who is the perpetrator you might see lower productivity in or caused by that worker as well.
Still not convinced? How are two real cases:
Palms v Old Navy: In May 2010 Eugene Robertson gained access to a restricted employee area of an Old Navy store in Chicago, where his ex-girlfriend, Tranesha Palms, worked. Robertson then shot and killed Ms. Palms and then turned the gun on himself. Only four days before the shooting, he called the store and made threats to managers. The store took no action in response. In addition to the murder-suicide, and the danger to co-workers, was the danger to customers. Would you be reluctant to visit that store for some time after such an occurrence? If enough people were, then you have another example of how domestic violence affects and employer, and its bottom line. Add to that, Ms. Palms’ family sued Old Navy for its failure to take precautions when it knew Mr. Robertson wanted to hurt one of its employees.
Various Estates v Pinelake Health Resort a woman worked at a retirement home as a caregiver. Her ex-husband showed up and shot and killed 7 residents and a nurse and wounded three others as he looked for his ex-wife. The lawsuit claimed that the employer was aware of the pending threat and had placed the employee-ex-wife in a different location on the day of the shooting.
OK, so we know that an employer has to provide and maintain a safe environment for workers as well as customers/clients. The OSH-Administration takes the position that failure to do so violates the OSH-Act, exposing an employer to fines and penalties. (Click here for review of those points.) Then there are general negligence principles. What can you as an employer do to keep your employees and your clients/customers safe from domestic violence situations playing out in the workplace. In both of the above cases, the perpetrator was looking for a specific employee. Can you fire the employee? After all, the perpetrator is looking for the employee. If the employee is no longer there — and the perpetrator is made aware of that, then the employer is taking steps to protect itself, its other employees and customers/clients. Can you discipline an employee who misses too much work due to injury, or court appearances or injury-related illness? Can you discipline an employee who is regularly late for the same reasons? In most cases no. Why not? Other employment laws come into play. Join The EmpLAWyerologist next week and we’ll discuss what happens if you look to terminate or discipline an employee who has been subjected to domestic violence.
Disclaimer: This post and all its contents are for educational/informational purposes only, are not intended as legal advice, do not create an attorney-client relationship, and are not intended to replace consultation with competent employment counsel in the state(s) in which you employ people
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