Victims of domestic violence may have FMLA rights

Several months ago in this Wisconsin Employment Law Blog, we discussed the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s message to employers who may employ victims of domestic violence. Although victims of domestic violence are not a protected class under federal anti-discrimination laws, the EEOC suggested that it may be illegal for employers to discriminate against victims under a number of overlapping laws. For example, not allowing a woman to leave work for a protective order proceeding might qualify as sex discrimination if male employees have been allowed to leave work for court dates.

A column that was recently published by CBSNews.com details additional employment laws that may protect victims of domestic violence. One of these is the federal Family and Medical Leave Act, under which victims of domestic violence may be able to take a job-protected leave should they need time off due to injuries or to leave an abuser.

Under federal law, the FMLA applies to employers who have at least 50 employees in a single area. They must offer up to 12 weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave to employees who have worked for them for at least a year, having put in more than 1,250 hours in the previous year. Employees may take FMLA leaves if they have serious injuries, illnesses or mental trauma.

Residents of Wisconsin have additional leave rights under the Wisconsin FMLA.

Those who are leaving an abuser and have a restraining order in place may wish to disclose this to a manager or human resources department. Many workplaces might have domestic violence policies that provide additional protections, such as a close parking spot or a security escort.

Those who are leaving abusers may also receive safety strategies from a victims’ rights advocate that include plans to arrive at work at a different time each day, or to telecommute from an undisclosed location. Many employers will make such accommodations, and in some cases they might be required to by the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Victims of domestic violence should remain focused on their safety, and law enforcement and victims’ advocates may help with this. When an employer gets in the way of this or treats victims of domestic violence unfairly, it may be beneficial to talk with an employment law attorney.

Source: CBS News, “What do you tell your boss when you’re leaving your abuser?” April 8, 2013

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