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Employment Rights for Victims of Domestic Violence

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If you are a victim of domestic abuse call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1−800−799−7233.

Fact: One in three women and one in four men will be a victim of domestic violence in their lifetime.

Domestic violence has no boundaries. It affects individuals of all backgrounds, socioeconomic classes, professions, and education levels. The pervasiveness of domestic violence is troubling and the impact it can have on a victim’s life is often overwhelming.

Not surprisingly, domestic violence does not stay at home and the effects of abuse can easily spill over into the workplace.

“We’ve had a number of issues,” recalls John Fielding Director of Risk and Safety Management at simplicityHR by ALTRES. “From restaurant workers locking themselves in storage rooms because their abusive partners are waiting outside, to stalking ex-partners trespassing into unsecured offices, lingering around early in the morning.”

From an employer perspective, domestic violence is estimated to cost $727.8 million in lost productivity every year, with more than 7.9 million paid workdays—the equivalent of more than 32,000 full-time jobs—lost each year. In the US alone, two women are killed at work every month by an intimate partner (Source).

When domestic violence crosses into the workplace, many companies are ill-equipped to support their employees. Nearly 65 percent of companies don’t have a formal domestic violence prevention policy and 80 percent don’t offer employees training on domestic violence in the workplace, according to a 2013 SHRM survey.

Below is a helpful guide on everything from employment protections in Hawaii, to responding and supporting victims of abuse, to preventing incidents of domestic violence in the workplace.

Employment protections for victims of domestic and sexual violence

Hawaii law prohibits employers from discriminating against victims of domestic violence and sexual abuse.  Even if workplace issues don’t escalate to the level of violent disruption, victims may have issues with tardiness or frequent absences, or trouble concentrating. This may leave Hawaii employers caught between a rock and a hard place. In Hawaii, Act 206 extends employment protections to employees and prospective employees who are victims of domestic abuse, sexual assault, or stalking, or are parents of a minor child who is a victim of domestic or sexual abuse.

Act 206 makes it illegal for an employer to use victim status as a deciding factor in:

  • Decisions to hire or employ or in barring or discharging from employment, and
  • Determining compensation or in the terms, conditions, or privileges of employment.

Additionally, employers must provide employees who are victims of domestic violence up to 30 days of unpaid leave within a calendar year (depending on the size of the employer). They must also provide reasonable accommodations for employees who claim to be victims of domestic or sexual abuse, unless doing so would create undue hardship on the operations of the employer.

Reasonable accommodations in this context can include, but are not limited to:

  • Screening the employee’s phone calls
  • Changing the employee’s contact information
  • Changing the employee’s work location
  • Restructuring the job functions of the employee
  • Installing locks and other security devices
  • Allowing the employee to work flexible hours

Employers have the right to request written proof of victim status, however, they cannot tell an employee which document to provide. For additional information, read the Frequently Asked Questions Sheet for Act 206 from the Hawaii Civil Rights Commission.

What should you do if you suspect an employee is a victim of domestic violence?

In the workplace, it’s often wise to avoid getting involved in an employee’s personal affairs. However, don’t ignore signs of domestic abuse. If you have learned that an employee is in a bad situation, it’s best to address it from a place of concern related to changes in behavior, or general well-being and safety.

If the employee is willing to share personal details, listen empathically and consider ways you might be able to help.

You don’t have to be an expert on the topic and instead of counseling the employee on what to do, tap available resources and seek professional guidance to provide support to the survivor of abuse. Reach out to or refer the employee to the domestic violence hotline and local organizations to find helpful resources and programs.

Your Employee Assistance Program (EAP), is another great resource that provides confidential support services such as domestic violence counseling. In return, offering an EAP can translate to lower health care costs, fewer absences, fewer incidents, and longer retention.

Policy and prevention of domestic violence incidents in the workplace

While domestic violence is not a problem that employers can solve, there are ways to mitigate the impact on your business and employees. A three-pronged approach focused on policy, training, and awareness is your best safeguard against domestic violence spilling into the workplace.

Policy and protocols

In order to make your employees feel safe at work and to protect your business from potential liability issues, it is crucial to have a solid zero-tolerance policy against workplace violence. In your handbook, also include specifics about leave and accommodations for victims of domestic or sexual violence.

Another important aspect of safety management is having an emergency protocol in place. Even if you are convinced that your workplace is safe and sound, it is better to have and not need than to need and not have. It is crucial that your employees don’t second guess when and how to act if they feel threatened or unsafe. You should also reassure your employees not to hesitate and immediately get security, safety management, and/or law enforcement involved if a situation escalates.

Training

No matter the industry, policies and protocols are most effective if employees are given the right tools to understand them not just in theory but also in practice. One great way to prepare your workforce is violence prevention training, where a trained professional teaches employees strategies on preventing and handling unsafe situations.

New hire onboarding is a great time to train your employees on important workplace policies and procedures. And October is National Domestic Violence Awareness Month, making it a great opportunity for yearly refreshers of policies, protocols, training, and available resources.

Awareness

Spread awareness about signs of domestic violence and offer helpful resources and support to survivors of domestic abuse frequently and openly. This can be done by posting information in public places in the workplace (e.g. breakrooms and restrooms), including it in paychecks, and inviting speakers or sharing info materials in staff meetings.

Spreading the word about potential perpetrators is another great way of preparing your employees. Given that the survivor of domestic abuse is willing to share their situation, finding ways to enhance their safety and security is critical. By making as many people as possible aware of the potential threat, security, front desk, coworkers, etc. can intervene before the situation escalates.

If the victim has obtained a temporary restraining order (TRO), handing out copies of the TRO with a picture serves as a great legal tool. If the aggressor violates the order, law enforcement can not only immediately remove, but also charge, the violator. As an employer in Hawaii, you also have the right to petition a TRO against someone who poses a threat to the workplace, however, it’s of highest importance to keep the employee experiencing violence involved in all decisions since taking action can pose a serious safety risk of escalated violence and retaliation. An extensive guide on restraining orders in the workplace can be found here.

simplicityHR clients benefit from the guidance of our team of experienced HR experts, a robust Employee Assistance Program, safety and training classes and more. For more information on how we can help your business, contact us today!

Before taking any adverse action (such as not hiring someone, revoking a job offer, or terminating an employee) or denying any requests for reasonable accommodations from a job applicant or employee who may fall under this protected category, seek counsel from an HR or legal expert.

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