Domestic Violence and the Workplace

By Mallory McGee


The physical signs of domestic violence are hard to miss: cuts, bruises, and broken bones. However, there are many effects of domestic violence that may be hard to see, including mental and emotional abuse, financial exploitation, and problems in the workplace. Victims of domestic violence report that their abusers often use their place of work to stalk and harass them. The physical abuse may have ended, but the residual abuse and its aftermath can create just as much turmoil in the lives of domestic violence victims.

The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence reports that victims of domestic violence can experience a decrease in job performance because of the abuse. They are also at risk for absenteeism and lateness because of the emotional effects, physical injuries, and court appearances linked to the abuse. Abusers can affect a victim’s workplace environment by calling the office repeatedly or showing up throughout the day. Abusers can also withhold car keys giving the victim no way to get to work, keep the victim from getting sleep, or refuse to provide childcare; thus, forcing the victim to stay home and miss work.

There have been initiatives to help domestic violence victims keep their jobs and for employers to provide resources or assistance, instead of firing or disciplining employees in this situation. In 2009, Governor Paterson signed a law prohibiting an employer from discriminating against an employee who is known to be a victim of domestic violence or stalking. This prohibits an employer from not hiring someone because of his or her victim status, firing the employee, or determining compensation based on the employee’s status as a victim. New York Penal Law § 215.14 also prohibits an employer from penalizing an employee who is to appear in court as a witness or victim. This allows domestic violence victims to meet with district attorneys about their case, obtain orders of protection, and testify in court without fear of losing their jobs. New York City Human Rights Law §8-107.1 prohibits employers from discriminating against victims of domestic violence, stalking, and sex offenses. Under this law, employers cannot use the actual or perceived status as victim to preclude employment, determine compensation, or withhold employment benefits, and may be required to provide a reasonable accommodation for an employee who is protected under the law.

Some states, including Washington, California, Florida, Illinois, and the District of Columbia, allow for domestic violence leave. These states require employers to allow employees to take some time off without fear of retaliation. The employee generally must give reasonable notice to the employer and could take this time for physical and mental health treatment, court appearances, counseling, to find a new home, and other reasons depending on the state. The Family and Medical Leave Act can allow up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave for the physical and psychological effects of domestic violence and other medical reasons. Some employers may allow employees to use paid sick, vacation, or personal time during the 12 week period. Companies such as Verizon and Avon have developed internal policies to train managers to identify employees who may be domestic violence victims by becoming sensitive to the signs of abuse.

On the heels of the domestic violence incidents in the news, the NFL and many other sports employers have begun to change their policies behind domestic violence. However, there are more victims that need protecting outside of the public eye. Victims of domestic violence need their employers to be a part of their recovery by encouraging treatment and allowing time for court proceedings and childcare. One of the main goals an abuser has is to isolate the victim. Employers can thwart this goal and support their employees by providing resources for them and eliminating a victim’s ultimate fear of losing her job and source of financial independence.