Topic of the Week Domestic Violence and the Workplace
Domestic violence -- mental or physical abuse at the hands of an intimate partner -- often affects the victims' ability to work. More than one in four women and one in ten men will experience domestic violence in their lifetime, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). According to Legal Momentum, an advocacy group, victims of domestic violence lose an average of 137 hours of work a year. Intimate partner violence causes victims to lose the equivalent of 32,000 full-time jobs each year.
1. I am dealing with a domestic violence situation and afraid I will be fired from my job. Do I have any legal protections?
No federal law explicitly protects victims of domestic violence in the workplace or permits them time off to deal with it. However, several states have passed domestic violence leave laws, which give victims the right to take time off work for certain domestic violence-related reasons. Some states allow victims and witnesses of a crime to take time off to attend court proceedings; these laws also apply to victims of 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. This type of discrimination can include being fired, harassed, or not hired for a job due to your domestic violence situation. This discrimination may happen when you must take time off work to participate in or prepare for court proceedings related to domestic violence. 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.
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 your state. 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