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Your Rights Domestic Violence and the Workplace

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Domestic violence -- mental or physical abuse at the hands of an intimate partner -- often affects the victims' ability to work. According to Legal Momentum, an advocacy group, victims of domestic violence lose an average of 137 hours of work a year. Victims of intimate partner violence lose the equivalent of 32,000 full-time jobs due to abuse. Some need time off from work to seek medical attention, seek a restraining order, or relocate to a safe place. Others are prevented from getting to work when an abuser disables or takes the car, sabotages childcare arrangements, or leaves the victim without cash to use public transportation.

This page will answer the following questions:

  1. I am currently dealing with a domestic violence situation and afraid I will be fired at work. Do I have any legal protections?
  2. I was discriminated against at work for being a victim of domestic violence, sexual assault, or stalking. What rights do I have?
  3. I was fired because I missed too much work while dealing with an abusive situation. Can I collect unemployment?
  4. I quit my job to make sure my abuser couldn't come to work to attack me or create a disruption in the workplace, can I collect unemployment insurance?
  5. I need to take off from work to go to court, but my employer won't give me the time off. What can I do?
  6. I missed work after being battered by my spouse so badly I had to go to the doctor. I was written up for missing work. Is there anything I can do?
  7. What employment policies might help to protect me in the workplace against domestic violence discrimination?
  8. How do I find out if my employer has policies that can help?
  9. How should I talk to my employer or supervisor about my domestic violence situation?

State and Local Laws Concerning Domestic Violence and the Workplace

  1. I am currently dealing with a domestic violence situation and afraid I will be fired at work. Do I have any legal protections?

    There is currently no federal law that protects victims of domestic violence in the workplace or permits them time off to deal with it. This has led a number of states to pass domestic violence leave laws, which give victims of domestic violence the right to take time off for certain reasons. Some states also allow victims of, and witnesses to, a crime to take time off to attend court proceedings; these laws protect victims of domestic violence, and also apply generally to other crimes. The federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) may also provide a right to time off for some workers who are facing domestic violence.

  2. I was discriminated against at work for being a victim of domestic violence, sexual assault, or stalking. What rights do I have?

    Discrimination that occurs because an individual is, or is perceived to be, a victim of domestic violence includes any negative action against a victim of domestic violence, and can include being fired, harassed, or not hired for a job due to domestic violence. This discrimination may be a result of having to take time off work to participate in, or prepare for court proceedings related to domestic violence against the employee or a family member. Discrimination may also result from a disruption, or a threat of disruption, in the workplace by someone who has committed or threatened domestic violence against the employee.

    If you feel you have experienced discrimination, you may have rights under sex discrimination laws or wrongful discharge laws. Most employees are employees at will. This means they can be fired for any reason or for no reason. However, there are some exceptions to this rule. One exception is that an employer cannot fire a person for a discriminatory reason. For more information on sex discrimination and wrongful discharge laws, see Legal Momentum's Employment Rights for Vicitims of Domestic or Sexual Violence. Sex discrimination and wrongful discharge laws may be helpful because termination from work due to domestic violence could be a wrongful discharge. Furthermore, discrimination based on domestic violence issues can be within the scope of gender discrimination.

  3. I was fired because I missed too much work while dealing with an abusive situation. Can I collect unemployment?

    You may be able to collect unemployment, but it depends on the state you live in. In general, you are eligible for unemployment insurance if you are fired from your job for a reason unrelated to your work performance. In a few states, like Maine, and New Jersey, if you are fired because you are a victim of domestic violence, you are presumed eligible for unemployment insurance. However, in most states you will probably be ineligible for unemployment benefits if you are fired for an act of misconduct as defined in your state's unemployment insurance law. For example, if you are fired because you missed several days of work without providing a sufficient excuse or if you have failed to complete your job requirements, even if it is because of domestic or sexual violence, you may not qualify for benefits because of your misconduct. If your missed days were covered in a sick leave policy or you obtained permission to miss work according to company policy, you may be eligible for benefits. Each state has different laws, so it is important to contact the unemployment agency in your state to determine eligibility requirements.

  4. I quit my job to make sure my abuser couldn't come to work to attack me or create a disruption in the workplace, can I collect unemployment insurance?

    Although eligibility for benefits varies from state to state, to collect unemployment insurance you must have "good cause" for quitting your job or being fired. Generally "good cause" is something that seriously affects your ability to perform your job. In California, for example, "good cause" is defined as "a real, substantial, and compelling reason of such nature as would cause a reasonable person genuinely desirous of retaining employment to take similar action." Many states now recognize that an employee who is a victim of domestic violence has "good cause" to quit her job when she does so to protect herself, her family, or her co-workers. A few of these state laws also explicitly apply to sexual assault or stalking victims; some other states laws have definitions of "domestic violence" that are broad enough to cover sexual assault or stalking.

    For more information on the laws in each state see Legal Momentum's state law guide "Unemployment Insurance Benefits," which is available at http://www.legalmomentum.org/what-we-do/violence/victims-of-violence-employment/state-law-guides and is frequently updated.

    In states that do not explicitly list domestic violence, sexual assault, or stalking as "good cause" to leave a job, a domestic or sexual violence victim may still have an opportunity to prove that she had good cause and become eligible for benefits.

    For more information click here.

  5. I need to take off from work to go to court, but my employer won't give me the time off. What can I do?

    Thirteen states and the District of Columbia have passed laws giving victims of domestic violence the right to take some time off work. (California, Connecticut, Colorado, Florida, Hawaii, Kansas, Maine, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oregon, and Washington -- see below for more information). These laws generally allow leave for domestic violence victims to go to court to obtain protection orders, get medical attention, find a victim service program, and get other legal assistance. These laws also prohibit employers from discriminating against victims from taking time off for these reasons. However, employers can ask employees to provide documentation for their absence. These laws vary significantly in the details, including:

    • How much time off. Some states allow employees to take up to a set amount of days or weeks off; others allow employees to take a "reasonable" amount of leave or simply prohibit employers from disciplining or firing employees who take time off for reasons related to domestic leave.
    • Reasons for leave. The list of covered activities varies by state, but most allow time off for medical care and psychological counseling, relocation or other safety planning, and seeking a restraining order or participating in legal proceedings relating to domestic violence.
    • Notice and paperwork requirements. Most states require employees to give reasonable advance notice that they will need leave, although these laws also recognize that the employee may be facing an emergency and unable to give notice. State law may also require employees to provide some written proof that they took leave for reasons related to domestic violence.
    • Use of paid leave. Currently, no state requires employers to pay employees for this time off except the District of Columbia which requires paid leave starting at the end of 2008. Some states allow employees to use their paid leave (such as sick or vacation days) while taking time off for domestic violence; others require employees to use up all of their paid leave before taking domestic violence leave.
  6. I missed work after being battered by my spouse so badly I had to go to the doctor. I was written up for missing work. Is there anything I can do?

    As discussed above in question [5], although it varies from state to state, some states have passed laws giving victims of domestic violence the right to take time off work if seeking medical attention necessitated by domestic violence. If domestic violence is included in your state's listed reasons for leave, your employer would not be able to discipline you for that absence. You may also be covered by FMLA/state law (if you meet leave requirements under those laws.)

  7. What employment policies might help to protect me in the workplace against domestic violence discrimination?

    Although there may not be a specific sexual or domestic violence or workplace violence policy at your place of work, many policies can still serve that purpose. Some examples of policies that might be helpful include:

    • Leave policies: your employer may have paid or unpaid leave policies. In addition, you may be eligible for leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act or similar local laws. FMLA
    • Disability policies: your employer may provide paid disability leave. In addition, you may be eligible for a job accommodation for disabilities caused by domestic violence under the Americans with Disabilities Act or similar state or local laws. Disability Discrimination
    • Collective bargaining agreements: If you belong to a union, your collective bargaining agreement may cover your situation. In addition, some unions have adopted workplace violence or domestic violence policies that explain how your employer's workplace policies apply in domestic violence cases. Labor Unions
    • Sexual harassment policies: if the abuser or perpetrator is your coworker or supervisor, and he/she harasses or sexually assaults you at work, then your employer's sexual harassment policy may cover your situation. Sexual Harassment
    • Domestic violence or workplace violence policies: some employers have adopted domestic/sexual violence or workplace violence policies that may be helpful to you.
  8. How do I find out if my employer has policies that can help?

    Your employer may have employment policies that can help you to be safer at work, keep your job, take time off to go to court, or recover from injuries caused by the abuser without losing your job. Check if your employer or union gave you an employee handbook or policy manual when you started work. Employment policies may also be posted at public spaces at work. If you cannot find the employment policies, ask your supervisor, union representative or human resources department to learn about the policies in place.

    For more information on domestic and sexual violence workplace policies, click here.

  9. How should I talk to my employer or supervisor about my domestic violence situation?

    Although there are steps you can take on your own, it may be necessary to tell your employer or supervisor about your situation. Before you ask your employer to help you, think about what you need and how to ask for it. Start by asking your employer to keep your situation confidential. Be aware that there may still be times when your employer feels compelled to disclose what you tell them. For example, if you tell your employer that you are afraid that the abuser or perpetrator may harm you at work, your employer may think that he or she must take steps to inform other employees of your situation in order to improve safety in the workplace. There is also the risk that your employer may believe you should be terminated to keep the workplace safe. Talk with a lawyer or advocate for more information. Tell your employer the steps you are already taking to keep yourself safe. Think about your employer's perspective and interests: he or she probably wants all of her workers to be safe and do their jobs well.

    **If you are experiencing problems at work related to your struggle with domestic violence you should consult an attorney in your area for more information. Not all states have laws specific to this situation and the right way to handle your problem will differ based on your state and locality.**

State and Local Laws Concerning Domestic Violence and the Workplace

CALIFORNIA

In California, for companies that employ 25 or more people, an employee who is a victim of sexual assault or domestic violence can take up to 12 weeks of leave to seek medical attention, obtain services from a domestic violence shelter or rape crisis center, psychological counseling, or to relocate. The employee must give the employer reasonable notice of intent to take such leave, unless advance notice is not feasible. The employer is required by law to maintain the employee's confidentiality.

COLORADO

In Colorado, a company that employs 50 or more people must allow an employee who has worked there for at least a year and is a victim of domestic violence-related crimes (including domestic abuse, sexual assault, or stalking) to take up to 3 days leave per year to seek a restraining order, obtain medical care or counseling, find safe housing, or attend court-related proceedings. Unless the employee is in imminent danger, he/she must provide employer advance notice.

CONNECTICUT

An employer of 3 or more people cannot terminate or penalize an employee who is a victim of family violence or attends or participates in a family violence court proceeding. The employee can also take up to 12 days leave per year to seek a restraining order, obtain medical care for counseling, find safe housing or attend court-related proceedings.

DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA

In D.C., an employer who employs 100 or more people must provide victims of domestic violence 1 hour of paid leave for every 37 hours of work, not to exceed 7 days per year. Employers who employ 25-99 employees must provide domestic violence victims with 1 hour for every 43 hours worked, not to exceed 5 days per year. Employers with less than 25 employees must provide 1 hour paid leave for every 87 hours worked, not to exceed 3 days per year. The District of Columbia does not require reasonable notice.

FLORIDA:

In Florida, in companies that employ 50 or more people, employees can take up to 3 days a year off if they or a member of their family or household is a victim of domestic or sexual violence.

ILLINOIS:

The Illinois Victims Economic Security and Safety Act (VESSA) provides up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave during any 12-month period to address domestic or sexual violence if the employee meets the following criteria:

  • The employee is a victim of domestic or sexual violence or has a family or household member who is a victim of such violence and
  • The employee is employed by a private employer with 50 or more employees or by a state or local government or school district may take

An employee working for an employer with 15 to 49 employees can take up to 8 weeks of leave during any 12-month period.

This leave may be used to seek medical attention or counseling, obtain services from a victim services organization, participate in safety planning or relocation, or seek legal assistance.

Additionally, an employee may use paid leave that is otherwise available for time taken off pursuant to this provision. Unless impracticable, the employee must provide 48-hour notice of the leave. The employer may request the employee to provide certification of the violence and that the leave is for an enumerated purpose.

KANSAS:

In Kansas, an employer may not discharge or in any manner discriminate or retaliate against an employee who is the victim of domestic violence or a victim of sexual assault for taking time off from work to obtain or attempt to obtain judicial relief such as a restraining order; seek medical attention; obtain services from a domestic violence shelter, domestic violence program, or rape crisis center; or make court appearances in the aftermath of domestic violence or sexual assault.

An employee must give the employer reasonable advance notice of his/her intention to take time off, unless such advance notice is not feasible. When prior notice is not feasible, the employer may not take any action against the employee if the employee provides certain specified documentation (a police report, court order, or documentation from a medical professional, health care provider, counselor, domestic violence advocate or advocate for victims of sexual assault) within 48 hours after the beginning of the unscheduled absence.

MAINE:

In Maine, employers must grant "reasonable and necessary" leave when an employee, or a child, parent or spouse of the employee, is a victim of domestic violence, stalking, sexual assault, violence, assault, or any other act that would support granting an order of protection.

The leave may be used to prepare for and attend court proceedings, receive medical treatment, or obtain other necessary services to remedy a crisis caused by the violence. Employers are prohibited from sanctioning employees for exercising their rights under this section. There is a $200 civil penalty for violating this law. However, the employer is not required to grant leave if the employer would sustain "undue hardship," if the leave request was not made within a reasonable time under the circumstances, or if the requested leave is impractical, unreasonable or unnecessary based on the facts known to the employer.

NEW MEXICO:

Under the New Mexico Promoting Financial Independence for Victims of Domestic Abuse Act employees who are victims of domestic abuse are entitled to domestic abuse leave, which is paid or unpaid leave time for up to14 days in any calendar year, and up to eight hours in one day.

The leave may be used to obtain an order of protection or other judicial relief, to meet with law enforcement officials, to consult with attorneys or victim advocates, or to attend court proceedings related to the domestic abuse of the employee or the employee's family member.

The employee must give the employer notice within 24 hours of commencing the leave. An employer may request verification of the need for the leave, in one of the following: a police report; an order of protection or other court evidence; or the written statement of an attorney, victim advocate, law enforcement official or a prosecuting attorney. The employer must maintain confidentiality about the domestic abuse, unless the employee consents or when otherwise required by federal or state law.

NEW YORK STATE:

In New York, victims of domestic violence are a group generally protected from employment discrimination. "Domestic violence victim" means a person who is a victim of an act which would be a family offense under the state's Family Court Act.

NEW YORK CITY:

In New York City, an employer cannot be discharged, or discriminate against an individual because the individual is, or is perceived to be, a victim of domestic violence, sex offenses or stalking. Under this law, unlawful discrimination includes taking actions against a victim based solely on the acts of a person who has perpetrated acts or threats of violence against the victim. An employer is required to make reasonable accommodations for a victim to permit her or him to perform the "essential requisites" of the job, unless doing so would be an "undue hardship" for an employer.

NEW YORK, WESTCHESTER COUNTY:

In Westchester County, employment discrimination against victims of domestic violence, sexual abuse, or stalking is prohibited. It protects victims from being fired, refused employment, or otherwise discriminated against at work based on being a victim of such violence. It also requires employers to make reasonable accommodations to permit a victim to perform his or her job, including schedule modifications or security measures, unless doing so would impose an undue hardship on the employer. To claim protections under the law, an individual must provide the employer with documentation certifying that he or she is a victim of such violence. This requirement can be met by providing a police report; court order; or documentation from a medical professional, domestic violence advocate, clergy member, or counselor from  whom the individual has sought assistance in addressing the violence.

NORTH CAROLINA:

In North Carolina, an employer is prohibited from discharging, demoting, disciplining, or denying a promotion to an employee who takes reasonable time off from work to obtain or attempt to obtain a protective order or other relief under the state's domestic violence law. An employee who is absent to such seek relief must follow the employer' s usual leave policy or practices; if the employer generally requires advance notice of absences, an employee must provide advance notice unless an emergency prevents the employee from doing so. An employer may require the employee to provide documentation showing the reason for the employee's absence.

OREGON:

In Oregon, an employee who works more than 25 hours a week for at least 180 days prior to taking domestic violence leave for an employer with at least 6 employees, and who is a victim of domestic violence, sexual assault, harassment or stalking, or is the parent or guardian of a minor child or dependent who is a victim, can take reasonable, unpaid time off from work to deal with the violence. The leave can be used to seek legal or law enforcement assistance, in preparing for and participating in protective order proceedings or other civil or criminal legal proceedings related to domestic violence, sexual assault or stalking; to seek medical treatment or to recover from injuries; to obtain, or to assist a minor child or dependent in obtaining, counseling from a licensed mental health professional; to obtain services from a victim services provider; or to relocate or take steps to secure an existing home.

The employer is required to keep the information confidential. The employer may require documentation such as: a copy of a police report; a copy of a protective order or other evidence from a court, administrative agency or attorney that the eligible employee appeared in or was preparing for a civil, administrative or criminal proceeding; documentation from an attorney, law enforcement officer, health care professional, licensed mental health professional or counselor, member of the clergy or victim services provider that the eligible employee or the employee's minor child or dependent was undergoing treatment or counseling, obtaining services or relocating as a result of domestic violence, sexual assault or stalking.

PORTLAND, OREGON:

Portland expands rights accorded to employees under the Oregon state law to mandate that employees who work in the city of Portland must accrue 1 hour of time off for every 30 hours of work, with the accrual capped at 40 hours per calendar year.

PHILADELPHIA, PENNSYLVANIA:

In Philadelphia, an employee who is a victim of domestic violence, sexual assault or stalking, or who has a family or household member who is a victim whose interests are not adverse to the employee regarding the violence is entitled to unpaid leave. The leave may be used to seek medical attention for physical or psychological injuries caused by the violence; obtain services from a victim services organization; obtain psychological or other counseling; participate in safety planning, relocation or other actions to increase safety or economic security; or seek legal assistance.

For an employer with 50 or more employees, the law provides 8 weeks of leave per year; for an employer with less than 50 employees, the law provides 4  weeks of leave per year. The employee shall provide at least 48 hours notice of the intent to take leave if practical. The employer may require documentation that the employee or family or household member is a victim and that the leave is for a permitted reason, which can be satisfied by a police or court record, documentation from a victim services organization, attorney, clergy, medical or other professional, or other corroborating evidence.

RHODE ISLAND:

In Rhode Island, an employer is prohibited from refusing to hire, discharging, or discriminating against an individual solely because the individual seeks or obtains a protective order or refuses to seek or obtain such an order. A court may award actual damages or order injunctive relief, as well as attorney's fees, in a civil action alleging a violation of the statute. 

WASHINGTON:

In Washington, an employee who is a victim, or whose family member is a victim, of domestic violence, sexual assault, or stalking, may take reasonable leave from work, with or without pay, to: seek legal or law enforcement assistance or remedies, including, but not limited to, participating in any civil or criminal legal proceeding related to the violence; seek treatment by a health care provider; obtain services from a victim service provider; obtain mental health counseling; or participate in safety planning, including relocation or other actions. If these rights are violated, an employee can file an administrative complaint or a civil action in court. The requirements of the law are required to be posted in the workplace.

SEATTLE, WASHINGTON:

In Seattle, full time and part time employees must accrue at least 1 hour of paid sick and safe leave for every 40 hours worked. The leave may be used from the 180th calendar day following the start of employment. Employees may use this leave to address the effects of domestic violence, sexual assault or stalking either with respect to themselves or with respect to a family member. In particular, they may take time off to seek medical attention, receive services from an applicable social services program, obtain legal or law enforcement assistance, attend counseling and participate in safety planning, including relocating or taking other appropriate safety measures.

In cases where the leave is foreseeable, an advance notice must be provided at least ten days prior to its commencement. If the leave is longer than three consecutive work days, employers may verify both that the employee or the employee's family member is a victim of a qualifying offense and that the leave is for an authorized purpose. To satisfy the certification requirement, employees may provide a police report, a court order, a written statement or documentation from a professional who has assisted the employee or the employee's family member in connection with the violence, including an advocate, an attorney, a member of the clergy or a health care provider. All information gathered pursuant to these provisions must be maintained in confidence unless the disclosure is requested or consented to by the employee, ordered by a court or an administrative agency or otherwise required by law.