If you are facing domestic violence, there may be ways your employer can help. In some states, employers have legal obligations to employees who are facing domestic violence. For instance, an employer may have to give you time off or provide reasonable accommodations to make your workplace safer. State law may even allow your employer to get a workplace restraining order against your abuser, as explained below.
Some states, including California and Illinois, have passed laws that require employers to make reasonable accommodations—changes to your workplace, work area, job duties, policies, and so on—to protect employees who are victims of domestic violence. Such changes might include moving your workstation (so you are not close to the front door or elevator entrance to your company, for example), changing your work phone number or routing your calls through a receptionist, putting a lock on your office door, modifying your work schedule, altering your job duties (so you don’t have to appear alone at remote public events, for instance), or letting you take time off.
If you are a victim of domestic violence, you are likely familiar with restraining orders, sometimes called protective orders. These courts orders require an abuser to stay away from you and places you frequent, such as your home or school. A restraining order allows police to arrest your abuser for getting too close to you before any actual violence takes place. This can help interrupt the cycle of violence.
Some states, including California, Colorado, and North Carolina, allow employers to take out their own restraining orders against anyone who has committed illegal violence against an employee, or threatened such violence, that could take place at work. The order can protect not only the victim, but other employees as well.
About 20 states require employers to give employees domestic violence leave: time off work to handle certain issues relating to domestic violence, sexual assault, or stalking. Each state sets its own rules about which employers must provide leave, who is eligible to take leave, and how much leave is available. Typically, leave is available if an employee or family member is a victim of domestic or sexual violence, and the employee needs time off for medical care, counseling, safety planning, or legal matters relating to the violence.
In most states, this time off is unpaid. However, a handful of states require employers to provide paid sick leave to employees, which can be used for reasons relating to domestic violence. To learn more about domestic violence leave laws, select your state from the list at Nolo's page on time off work.
What should you do if you are facing domestic violence, but your state doesn’t impose any of these requirements on employers? One option is to ask for help anyway, such as time off work or some workplace changes to make you feel safer. Even if your employer isn’t legally obligated to provide this assistance, it might be willing to do so if you explain what you need and why.
Of course, there could be risks to telling your employer. Although some states protect victims of domestic violence from workplace discrimination or retaliation, not all states do. This means that an employer could fire you simply for raising the issue (for example, because it fears that your abuser may come to the workplace). In this situation, you’ll have to decide what to do, based on your sense of how your employer is likely to react and how much risk you’re willing to take.
If you decide to ask for help, be specific about what you need and how it will help you do your job. For example, if your abuser is calling you at work multiple times a day, you might let your employer know and ask for a new telephone number, to be provided only on an as-needed basis. Explain that these constant calls are stressful and take your mind off your job, and that making this simple change will help you be more productive and comfortable at work.
You can find lots of great factsheets and other resources for victims of domestic violence at Legal Momentum’s page on victim workplace rights.
As you research your rights and ways to stay safe, take precautions. If you share a phone plan or computer with your abuser, your searches and outreach may not be private. Consider using a phone or computer your abuser doesn’t have access to for your safety planning.