For those facing domestic violence, focusing on work can be very difficult. You may be worried about your children while you are on the job. You may fear that your abuser will show up at your workplace. You may need medical care, legal help, or psychological counseling and support. You may simply need time to plan your next steps and try to ensure your safety.
In California, your employer is required to give you time off for these reasons. California employers are also empowered to seek temporary restraining orders (TROs) for their workplaces, if an employee is facing a credible threat of violence that has been or could be carried out at work. We describe these rights below.
You have the right to accommodations and time off—and your employer has the right to seek a TRO—only if your employer knows that you are facing violence. This means, of course, that you will have to reveal your situation to someone at work. If your company has a human resources department, that’s the best place to start.
Some employees fear that revealing their status as victims of domestic violence might lead to mistreatment at work, or that their coworkers will learn painful details of their private lives. If you have these concerns, you should know that California law provides some protections. California employers are prohibited from discriminating or retaliating against employees who are victims of domestic violence, stalking, or sexual assault. The law also requires your employer to keep the information you reveal confidential, disclosing it only if legally required or if necessary to protect your safety at work.
Remember your safety when looking for help. When looking for help for domestic violence—and when considering how to inform your employer—remember that your computer, Internet, and phone use may not be private from your abuser. For instance, you may use the same computer as your abuser or share a phone plan that allows the abuser to see the calls you make and receive. Consider whether there's anything you can and should do to prevent someone else from learning that you’re doing research or seeking help.
California law requires your employer to provide reasonable accommodations for your safety at work. You must notify your employer that you are a victim of domestic violence, sexual assault, or stalking, and you must request an accommodation. Such accommodations might include:
Once you request an accommodation, your employer must engage in a timely dialogue with you, in good faith, to come up with an effective accommodation. However, your employer is not required to provide an accommodation that would create an undue hardship (significant expense or burden, given the employer’s size and resources). An accommodation that puts other employees at risk is an undue hardship.
Your employer can ask you to provide proof that you are a victim of domestic violence, stalking, or sexual assault. You may also be asked to provide a written statement that you are requesting an accommodation for these reasons.
California gives employees the right to take time off work to handle issues relating to domestic violence, stalking, or sexual assault. The rules depend on the size of your employer.
All employers must allow employees to take time off to seek relief, including restraining orders, temporary restraining orders, and other injunctive relief (court orders forcing someone to stop doing something) to help ensure their own or their children’s safety, health, or welfare. You must give advance notice that you need this time off, if possible. If you can’t give notice, you must provide certification to your employer, within a reasonable time after returning to work, that you took time off for these reasons. This might include a court order, police report, or documentation from a health care provider.
Employers with 25 or more employees must allow employees who are victims of domestic violence, stalking, or sexual assault to take time off for these reasons:
You must give your employer advance notice that you will need leave for these reasons or, if that’s not possible, you must provide certification within a reasonable time, in the forms suggested above. Your employer must inform all new employees of these rights, and must give you a written copy of these rights upon request.
You can use accrued paid leave, as applicable, to be paid during this time off. California employees are also entitled to paid sick leave, which might be available if you are taking time off for injuries or medical care. You can also take unpaid leave, if you don’t have paid leave available; learn more about California’s leave laws.
California is one of a handful of states that gives employers the right to seek a TRO on behalf of an employee. Your employer can ask for a court to issue a TRO if an employee has suffered illegal violence, or a credible threat of violence, that has been or could be construed to be carried out at work. The TRO can protect you as well as other employees and members of your family.
A TRO acts to interrupt violence by making it illegal for someone not only to harass, threaten, stalk, or abuse you, but also to destroy your property, contact you, call you, send you mail, or come within a certain distance of you personally or of places you frequent (such as your home or school). In other words, a TRO can legally keep your batterer out of your workplace and away from your home. A batterer who calls you or approaches you in violation of the TRO can be arrested, before physical violence takes place.
If you need help getting time off work for domestic violence, contact a knowledgeable employment law attorney right away. And if you need to get away from a violent situation at home, a family law attorney or one of the organizations mentioned will be there to help.