Greenberg Traurig Alert
Employers May Face Liability When Domestic Violence Comes to
By Stacey Dougan, Greenberg Traurig, Miami Office
View or download the PDF version of this Alert here.
A Pennsylvania woman recently sued her employer, a national
retail chain, after her husband tracked her down at work and shot
her in the head before turning the gun on himself. The employee
claims that the employer was negligent in failing to call police
when her husband arrived at the store; failing to have adequate
security; and failing to implement and enforce a domestic violence
policy for abused employees. More specifically, the suit alleges
that the employer knew that the employee had been abused by her
husband days before the shooting and also knew that the employee had
obtained a court order requiring her husband to stay away from her.
Yet, the lawsuit contends, the employer failed to take reasonable
steps to provide the employee a safe place to work.*
While employers should be motivated by humanitarian concerns to
assist employees victimized by abuse, this tragedy serves as
powerful proof of one inescapable fact: Domestic violence is an
issue that no employer can afford to ignore. With one out of every
four women reporting physical abuse by an intimate partner at some
point in her lifetime, it is a certainty that in any mid-to-large
sized company, domestic violence is affecting the workplace.
The Business Impact
Domestic violence does not remain "domestic" by
staying at home when its victims go to work. An estimated 13,000
acts of domestic violence are committed in the workplace every year.
Homicide is the leading cause of death for women on the job. This
violence poses a threat not only to the victim, but it also
threatens the safety and well-being of co-workers and customers.
Even when domestic violence does not spill over into the workplace,
its effects are enormous.
- Businesses pay an estimated $3 to $5 billion annually in
medical expenses associated with domestic violence.
- They forfeit another $100 million a year in lost
wages, absenteeism and reduced productivity.
- One study reported that 96% of employees who were victims
of domestic violence reported some form of workplace problem as a
direct result of abuse.
- 78% of Human Resources professionals polled by Personnel
Journal said that domestic violence is a workplace issue.
- 47% of senior executives polled said that domestic violence
has a harmful effect on the company’s productivity.
- 94% of corporate security directors surveyed rank domestic
violence as a high security problem at their company.
- A large majority of EAP providers surveyed have dealt with
specific partner abuse scenarios in the past year, including an
employee with a restraining order (83%) or an employee being
stalked at work by a current or former partner (71%).
In addition to the exorbitant costs associated with domestic
violence, employers face the specter of legal liability under an
expanding myriad of laws for failing to respond appropriately to
this issue. In addition to already-existing traditional statutory
and common law remedies, in the past three years alone, more than 30
states and locales have enacted legislation designed to create
protections for victims of domestic violence. In addition, currently
pending before Congress is the Victims’ Economic Security and
Safety Act, which would require private employers to make certain
accommodations for employed victims of domestic violence.
These new laws are predicated on the understanding that the
workplace is often a prime place for domestic violence to occur
because it may be the only place where the perpetrator can gain
access to the victim. Moreover, perpetrators deliberately abuse
their victims during work hours because they know that victims fear
losing their jobs if their employers realize what is happening.
Employers who are unaware of the various laws governing their
conduct in this area may face exposure to legal liability.
- Occupational safety and health laws require employers to
maintain a safe workplace.
- The Americans with Disabilities Act or state disabilities
laws may require job accommodation of a victim of domestic
violence who is or becomes mentally or physically disabled.
- Family and medical leave laws may require employers
to grant leave to employees who are coping with serious health
conditions resulting from domestic violence situations.
- Victim assistance laws may prohibit employers from taking
adverse job actions against women who disclose their situation or
who take time off from their jobs to deal with domestic
- Victim assistance laws may require employers to grant
periods of unpaid leave for employees to attend court appearances
and medical appointments for themselves and/ or their children.
- Anti-discrimination laws prohibit employers from
discriminating against employees based upon their actual or perceived
status as victims of domestic violence.
- Insurance legislation prohibits discriminating against
victims of domestic violence in determining eligibility for,
benefits under and/or the cost of health, life, disability, auto,
or homeowner’s insurance.
- Unemployment compensation insurance laws may classify
domestic violence as ‘good cause’, and exclude domestic
violence situations from ‘misconduct.’
What Employers Can Do
As evidenced by the proliferation of protective legislation
in this area, employers must act with extreme caution to ensure that
their responses to the effects of domestic violence in the workplace
do not inadvertently violate federal, state or local law. The
employer is tasked with applying its policies in a manner that does
not discriminate against the victim on a prohibited basis and that
maintains a safe work environment.
Taking a proactive approach to domestic violence should
include designing and implementing a specific domestic violence in
the workplace policy. The policy should focus on providing
information and referrals to employees who are victims of domestic
violence and should address issues related to the need for time off
and security. Such an approach allows the employer to create a safer
and more supportive environment while reducing its exposure. Domestic
violence policies are not designed to place the employer or its
designated point persons in the position of counselors or advocates.
Rather, they are designed to mitigate the effects of domestic
violence in the workplace by providing victims with a link to
community resources that serve those functions. Thus, the
employer’s partnership with a local domestic violence agency is
essential to carrying out the policy’s central mission of
providing information and referrals to employees who are victims of
domestic violence. It also ensures that the employer becomes the
link to resources rather than the resource itself.
Substantive training on the dynamics of domestic violence,
recognizing domestic violence in the workplace, and responding
appropriately to domestic violence in the workplace plays a key role
in addressing this complex issue and establishing a policy. This
training is not intended to teach employees and supervisors how to
counsel victims in terms of what decisions they should be making in
the context of their intimate relationships. Rather, it is targeted
toward heightening awareness about domestic violence and providing
employees with information about the resources available in their
communities. Given their experience with and in-depth knowledge of
this difficult issue, local domestic violence agencies can assist
employers with this critical component of the training program.
How Greenberg Traurig Can Help
An ABA Journal article recently chronicled the unique role
lawyers can play in assisting businesses to develop domestic
violence policies and procedures.** Greenberg Traurig is one of the
few firms in the country that has implemented a domestic violence
policy and program for the health and welfare of its own employees.
It is also one of the few law firms in the country that has
specifically integrated into its labor and employment law practice
issues directly related to domestic violence in the workplace.
Led by Assistant General Counsel Stacey Dougan and Labor and
Employment Shareholders Mary Bruno and Elizabeth Lewis, we have
developed a response plan that, depending on the client’s needs,
may provide assistance with the following:
- Auditing existing employment policies and manuals to ensure
that the domestic violence policy and program fit the client’s
needs, culture and various environments (e.g., retail,
- Developing customized domestic violence policies,
protocols, resource materials, and programs.
- Providing assistance in establishing and building
relationships between the client and the local domestic violence
- Auditing EAP policies and ensuring providers possess the
requisite knowledge and experience to identify and respond
appropriately to domestic violence.
- Designing customized workplace safety plans.
- Establishing and training an internal Domestic Violence
Response Team, composed of designated managers, supervisors, and
employees identified as the "go to" people for victims
- Ensuring that the client’s policy is compliant with the
applicable laws in every jurisdiction in which it conducts
- Designing and facilitating internal corporate training and
- Working with clients to heighten awareness in the broader
corporate community concerning how employers can support victims
of domestic violence in and through the workplace.
Greenberg Traurig is particularly well-suited to offer to clients
direct and ongoing consultation, assistance, and advice regarding
how co-workers and supervisors can effectively and safely respond to
employees who are or may be victims or perpetrators of domestic
violence. Please contact us to find out how we can assist you with
your own program.
© 2001 Greenberg Traurig
For more information, please review our Labor & Employment Practice description, or feel free to contact one of our attorneys.
This GT ALERT is issued for general purposes only and is not intended
to be construed or used as legal advice. Greenberg Traurig attorneys provide
practical, result-oriented strategies and solutions tailored to meet our
clients’ individual legal needs. The Firm’s responsive approach to
client service often cuts across legal subject matter, applying the right
experience and resources to provide cost-effective solutions.