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Domestic Violence, #MeToo, and the Workplace: What Employers Should Know

Considerable attention has been paid to sexual harassment in the workplace via the #MeToo movement over the last year or so. In this period of high visibility for sexual violence, very little attention has been extended to women who have been victims of domestic abuse. Yet, one in four women reports severe physical violence from an intimate partner and 10% of women report being stalked by an intimate partner.1 With domestic abuse so prevalent, the workplace cannot escape its impact. Employers should be aware of both its effect and their responsibility.

A primary impetus behind the #MeToo campaign was the demand that sexually harassed women be seen and believed. For too long, women alleging sexual harassment in their workplaces were viewed with disbelief and their concerns were often dismissed. Now powerful men are being forced to face some real consequences and the women who accused them are being given credence. However, women alleging domestic abuse have not been included in this cultural shift.

"There's sort of this implicit belief in the case of domestic violence and killings in the home that maybe someone was triggered by something the victim did. This leads straightforwardly to this ‘victim blaming’ perspective where we think about domestic violence as something that happened because the victim deserved it. That they gave the perpetrator a good reason to harm them.”2

Not unlike sexually harassed employees who stay in their jobs, victims of domestic abuse are questioned when they do not leave their abusers. Many of these women are desperately afraid of leaving. They fear their abusers will harm or kill them if they try to leave; they fear their abuser might try to take away their kids; they fear being left destitute; they fear that even if they successfully leave, their abuser will track them down and inflict even more harm; and sometimes, they just keep hoping that their abuser will stop.3

With such intense turmoil in their home lives, it unavoidably crosses over into their work lives.

"Domestic violence is a workplace issue, not just a 'personal' issue. Even if the violence occurs away from work, it has significant financial and security impacts on the workplace, from lost productivity, lost days from work, and threats to safety."4  

Domestic violence victims lose a total of nearly eight million days of paid work annually, the equivalent of more than 32,000 full-time jobs.5 One study cited by Fortune showed that “78 percent of surveyed perpetrators used workplace resources at least once to express remorse or anger toward, check up on, pressure, or threaten their victim; 74 percent had easy access to their intimate partner’s workplace; and 21 percent reported that they had contacted their victim at the workplace in violation of a no-contact order.”6 One-third of the women killed in the workplace were killed by a former or current partner.7 Furthermore, employers may also see higher medical costs and increased insurance premiums.

As a volunteer at a local domestic violence legal clinic, I have witnessed firsthand the legal processes domestic violence victims in California face. Employers should be aware that it is a time-consuming and emotionally difficult process. Temporary Restraining Orders require completing multiple court forms along with a declaration outlining specific incidents of abuse to demonstrate genuine fear and danger. Victims must wait at the courthouse for the judge to rule on their restraining order after or in between other court business. Within a few weeks, victims must return for a hearing on whether a permanent restraining order will be granted, requiring more hours at the courthouse. For many victims, this hearing is terrifying as they must come face to face with their abuser and speak out about their abuse. Where children are involved, the Department of Children and Family Services may also become an interested party to ensure their protection. 

Beyond the legal processes, there are substantial practical implications. Often domestic violence victims must find a safe place to live which will require relocating and taking steps to keep their new address secret from their abuser. Significant effort is required to hide their location and protect their safety. Custody and divorce issues are often part and parcel of the process as well. Each step requires much thought and bravery against the person once closest to them whom they now fear. Addressing these issues, all while trying to maintain good work habits and productivity, demands almost superhuman strength. Yet, work and the ability to provide for themselves and their children is even more essential to their survival than ever.

Legal Protections for Domestic Abuse Victims in the Workplace

Domestic abuse includes a wide range of behavior:

“Domestic violence is a pattern of behavior in which one intimate partner uses physical violence; coercion; threats; intimidation; isolation; and emotional, sexual, or economic abuse to control the other partner. It is not defined by physical acts -- it is a combination of factors and affects the entire family, community, and workplace. It knows no economic, racial, ethnic, religious, age, or gender limits.”8

In 1994, Congress passed the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), the first federal law to recognize that domestic violence was a crime. Its application was limited to acts of violence against an intimate partner.9 Under VAMA, domestic violence victims are entitled to be treated with fairness and with respect for their dignity and privacy; have the right to be reasonably protected from the accused offender; the right to notified of court proceedings; and the right to be present at all public court proceedings.10

Employers should be aware that several federal statutes may offer protection to employees who are victims of domestic abuse. According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, Title VII and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) have protections for domestic abuse victims in the workplace.11 Examples when Title VII may apply include: an employer that terminates an employee because of the potential problems battered women bring to the workplace; an employer who believes only women may suffer from domestic abuse; or an employer who allows a male to use unpaid leave for a court appearance but refuses to allow a woman leave to participate in court processes against her abuser.12 The ADA may also offer protection to abused employees who have physical or mental impairments resulting from domestic or dating violence, stalking or sexual assault if they are treated differently or harassed, including needing time off for treatment of depression.13 The Family and Medical Leave Act may also allow victims who qualify to care for themselves and family members as they recover from physical injuries and the emotional ramifications of abuse, including Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.14
Approximately 21 states offer explicit statutory protection for employees dealing with domestic violence including: Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, District of Columbia, Florida, Hawaii, Illinois, Kansas, Maine, Massachusetts, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Vermont, Rhode Island, and Washington.15 Some of these states offer “safe days” for victims to use for court appearances and other domestic violence related matters such as medical attention without fear of losing their jobs. Some states have explicit anti-discrimination protections for these employees based on what they have suffered at home. Many states also protect victims from workplace ramifications if they are required to testify in criminal proceedings against their abusers.16
How Employers Can Protect Employees and Themselves
Employers are ideally suited to notice domestic violence and are in a unique position to offer support. While it is natural not to want to take on the responsibility of getting involved, the costs to workplace productivity and possible threats to workplace safety make employer involvement essential. Thus, managers should receive training on how to recognize the symptoms of domestic violence, which may include absenteeism, depression, and evidence of physical harm.17 If domestic abuse is suspected, managers and human resources professionals should formulate a careful and thoughtful approach. Victims of abuse often feel profound shame and may not want to disclose what is happening. Instead, consider limiting your approach to expressing concern about her well-being without asking specific questions.18 Companies such as Verizon, Allstate, Prudential, Avon, Mary Kay, Macy’s, and Home Depot have reportedly implemented screening techniques for domestic violence which have resulted in an increase in identification of abuse.19
If an employee is willing to disclose domestic abuse, have referral resources available. Human resources and other pertinent employees should be ready to refer victims to advocacy services, communicate with law enforcement, and offer security assistance if appropriate.20
Employers should also consider taking a proactive approach and have a workplace violence prevention plan that incorporates domestic violence’s impact in the workplace.21 Such a plan should include allowing abused employees some flexibility in their work schedules to take time off to address their legal rights such as restraining orders. In some jurisdictions, restraining orders may also include the workplace and employers should be prepared for the possibility that an abuser may try to contact your employee at the workplace. Employees may want their names removed from company call directories and to change their email addresses to make communication more difficult for the abuser. Any workplace violence prevention program should include how to handle restraining orders and a mechanism for employees to communicate the terms as they apply to the workplace. The Centers for Disease Control recommends that employers have secure access points, establish visitor sign-in policies, and have crisis plans in place. Employees should be trained in how to handle threats that come into the workplace, establish safety protocols, make exits clearly visible, and post the National Domestic Violence Hotline number (1-800-799-SAFE).22
With 44% of employees reporting that they have seen domestic violence’s effect in their workplaces, creating a workplace plan that can address domestic violence benefits everyone.23 It provides victims with a way to support themselves and their families while moving forward with dignity; it protects their co-workers from danger; and it helps maintain workplace productivity.

Statistics from the Centers for Disease Control, Preventing Intimate Partner Violence, 2017, Men also suffer from domestic abuse but their numbers are significantly lower. 76% of domestic violence is suffered by women. U.S. Department of Justice, Jennifer L. Truman, PH.D., and Rachel E. Morgan, Ph.D., BJS Statisticians, Nonfatal Domestic Violence, 2003-2012,,
National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, When #MeToo Isn’t Enough: Why Domestic Violence Needs Its Own Hashtag, June 4, 2018,,
Kathy Gurchiek, What Employers Can Do When Domestic Violence Enters the Workplace, Feb. 2, 2018,,
National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, Costs of Intimate Partner Violence Against Women in the United States. Atlanta (GA): Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; 2003.
Ellen Mcgirt, raceAheadDomestic Violence Is A Workplace Issue, Nov. 7, 2017,,
The National Domestic Violence Hotline,,
Robin Runge, The Legal Response to The Employment Needs of Domestic Violence Victims, American Bar,
42 U.S.C. §10606(b)
10 U.S. Department of Justice
11 EEOC, Questions and Answers: The Application of Title VII and the ADA to Applicants or Employees Who Experience Domestic or Dating Violence, Sexual Assault or Stalking,
12 Id.
13 Id.
14 U.S. Department of Labor,
15 Domestic Violence and the Workplace, - ARIZONA.
16 Id, 8.
17 Robert Pearl, M.D., Domestic Violence: The Secret Killer That Costs $8.3 Billion Annually, Dec. 5, 2013,,
18Seyfarth Shaw LLP, Workplace violence: does your program address domestic violence, May 28, 2013,,
19 Id, 17.
20 Id, 18.
21 James N. Madero, Domestic Violence in the Workplace: A Continuing Danger, March 2004,,
22 Id, 4.
23 Id, 8.