Amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, increased incidents of domestic violence emerged across the country. Although some employers may view the issue of domestic violence as a “personal or family issue,” the fact is that oftentimes domestic violence becomes an employment issue when it directly impacts a survivor’s employment. For example, abusers may deliberately sabotage their victim’s employment by destroying work uniforms, stealing work property (e.g., keys, badges, laptops, etc.), or forcing a victim to miss work without advance notice to the employer. By doing so, abusers can cause the victim to experience adverse employment actions such as discipline, demotion, or even termination from their position.
With the prospect of domestic violence impacting the workplace, employers must learn how to better support employees experiencing domestic violence, instead of viewing survivors as “problematic employees” who should be penalized. Providing workplace accommodations to victims of domestic violence is not only virtuous, but in several jurisdictions, including Washington D.C., it is what the law requires. Thus, for survivors, it is important that they understand their employment rights, and be prepared to assert those rights when an employer refuses to abide by the law.
Overview of Employment Rights for Victims of Domestic Violence
For private sector employers and local government employers in Washington, D.C., the D.C. Human Rights Act prohibits employment discrimination against both victims of domestic violence and their family members. The prohibition against employment discrimination means that employers cannot take adverse employment actions (e.g., refuse to hire, lower pay, discipline, take away responsibilities, or terminate) in whole or in part because an employee has experienced domestic violence. This is true even when the violence disrupts the workplace.
The law also requires employers to provide reasonable accommodation to domestic violence survivors unless doing so would cause the employer an undue hardship. Accommodations can include, but are not limited to, modifying an employee’s work schedule, installing security equipment at work, and even allowing the employee to transfer to a different work location. The law also prohibits employers from wrongfully disclosing an employee’s status as a victim of domestic violence.
Below, is a summary of employment rights available under the D.C. Human Rights Act to employees experiencing domestic violence:
- Leave to attend or prepare for a judicial or administrative proceeding related to a domestic violence incident,
- Leave to consult with an attorney and/or law enforcement officer regarding the domestic violence incident,
- Leave to receive physical or mental health treatment related to a domestic violence incident,
- Accommodations at work to ensure the employee’s safety (e.g., installation of security equipment, concealment of identity and employment status, revised scheduled, etc.)
- Protected job benefits – An employer cannot terminate, demote, or take any other adverse employment action against an employee who exercises their rights under the D.C. Human Rights Act.
Ultimately, as the pandemic continues to spur more lockdowns and requires more employees to spend more time at home (which, for some, means being in constant contact with an abuser), employers should implement workplace policies that aid and support survivors of domestic violence, not punish them for their circumstances. For some survivors, their employment can be a lifeline for their ultimate ability to escape abusive situations. For that reason, employers should be more empathetic and act more humanely towards survivors. Regardless, survivors who live or work in jurisdictions that offer employment protections should contact an attorney to better understand their rights and seek assistance in enforcing their rights when necessary. Help for victims of domestic violence can be found at the National Domestic Violence Hotline or by calling 1-800-799-7233 (SAFE) or 1-800-787-3224 (TTY).