From a premises liability perspective, an employer would be responsible for the welfare of its employees to a certain degree, and would owe certain duties to those employees, while they worked on the employer's premises. The recent, and unfortunate, domestic abuse cases against NFL players, and the expectations of the public that the NFL should be held responsible raises the question: do employers have a responsibility to protect against domestic violence?
How prevalent is domestic abuse in the workplace?
Although the NFL cases have not involved domestic violence incidents occurring in an actual workplace, many believe that the NFL, as the employer, should have responded differently. In truth, many do not expect domestic violence to affect their workplace.
Or maybe you believe domestic violence does not affect your workforce. You may be surprised to know that nearly two-thirds of victims of domestic abuse reported that they were harassed at work by the abuser. According to one report from the U.S. Department of Justice, 1.7 million incidents of violence in the workplace each year, approximately 18,700 are committed by a domestic abuser.
Another effect that domestic violence has on employees is attendance issues. An article published by the American Bar Association, indicates that nearly half of domestic abuse victims either miss work or were actually prevented from working by the abuser. "Some abusive partners may try to stop women from working by calling them frequently during the day or coming to their place of work unannounced." Even more discouraging, 50% of employed victims of domestic violence say they lost their jobs due, in part, because of the domestic violence. The effects of domestic violence in the workplace are real.
Are employers responsible under the law?
Generally speaking, an employer does not have a duty to take affirmative action to protect its employees from harm caused by a third-person. So, if an employee's ex-husband comes to work and attacks the employee, the employer would not typically be responsible for her injuries. It is doubtful that this rule will change in the near future, as it is based on the premise that the employer is only required to protect against known dangers. How many employers have a reasonable expectation that a spouse or partner is planning to attack an employee on the job? On the other hand, there are some states that are beginning to pass laws to, at least, help the victims in these domestic violence situations.
New state laws allowing victims time off to deal with domestic violence issues
Many states have begun to create laws to help victims of domestic abuse recover from their situations, while maintaining their employment. For example, Massachusetts has passed a new law that provides employees 15 days of leave from work, in a 12-month period, when that employee or a family member are victims of domestic abuse. Like with FMLA, the employer can decide whether this leave time will be paid or unpaid.
Other efforts have been made in California, New Jersey and Oregon, to address the issue of domestic abuse and employment include leaves of absence and paid leave measures, in order to secure employment and income for victims of domestic violence.
If you feel you have any questions regarding your employment rights, please contact Wrady & Michel, LLC, either online or by calling us at (205) 265-1880.