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DOMESTIC VIOLENCE AND THE WORKPLACE — In most cases, state, federal laws exist for employers to handle any crisis

girl green eye_rgbRecent cases of domestic abuse in the National Football League have made the news, but the problem is not new.

Nor have businesses had to scramble to develop or adjust employee policies and penalties regarding domestic violence. Members of the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) say the majority of the companies they represent have policies in place.

E. Russell Turner, an attorney with Balch & Bingham and government affairs director for the Mississippi State Council of SHRM, doesn’t think many of the 1,300 SHRM members in Mississippi have adopted any specific policies for leave related to domestic violence since most leave policies and at least two federal laws potentially provide for such leave anyway.

“The family leave act already provides leave rights for covered employers and employees whenever the employee has a serious health condition and that includes domestic violence,” he said.

“Serious health conditions include overnight inpatient visits as well as regular treatments of a continuing nature for psychological counseling and treatment. So that law (FMLA) is already on the books for covered employers and employees.”

Likewise, the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) could provide for leave rights if the domestic violence has led to PTSD or some other recognized mental impairment that affects the employee’s ability to perform the essential duties of the position.

“As far as rejecting applicants convicted of domestic violence or firing them once they are hired, I suspect that some of them already have general policies they could use and rely upon to do just that so they may not have specifically addressed domestic violence convictions as grounds for rejection or termination,” Turner said.

He adds that most employers would find ways to ensure their employees would be given the time necessary to take care of themselves under existing leave policies and laws even if there was not a specific policy in their handbook that provides for leave to be treated in connection with domestic violence.

“As such, I doubt that many employers have adopted any specific domestic violence leave provisions at this time,” he said. “There are no state laws that would specifically require Mississippi employers to grant leave rights to those subjected to domestic violence.”

The MBJ attempted to contact a another half-dozen businesses, but they did not want to comment or did not return calls.

Kate Kennedy, media and public affairs manager for SHRM in Washington, D.C., notes that as more states and local governments pass laws protecting the workplace rights of victims of domestic or sexual violence, employers — even those in states that have not passed such laws — should establish a written policy on domestic violence, including leave requests and related issues.

“Employers should consider instituting a policy covering intimate partner violence, providing access to experts and information to assist victims, offering support through Employee Assistance Programs, providing extra employment security and granting time off when needed,” she said.

Kennedy says employers should think about what type of documentation to require before leave is to be granted.

“Any policy must take into account employee privacy. Information concerning domestic violence or sexual abuse victims must be kept confidential,” she said.

She also suggests employers educate employees companywide on domestic violence, pulling resources from local domestic violence organizations, the police department and the district attorney’s office. “If the employee refuses help or denies that any abuse exists, but the employer still suspects that the employee is being abused and that the abuser might come to the workplace, the employer still has a responsibility to protect the employee and co-workers on the premises,” she said.

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