Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Domestic Violence and the Workplace

In the wake of the unfortunate shooting at a Milwaukee-area salon and spa, many questions have been raised about what legal considerations there are for employers that may prevent or avoid such incidents from occuring in their workplace, questions that perhaps were not considered as seriously as before.

Given the numerous laws involved, there are quite a few considerations for employers and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has already issued guidance and considerations on the application of federal anti-discrimination laws on employees or applicants who experience domestic or dating violence, sexual assault or stalking.  The biggest concerns arise out of sex discrimination (e.g., an employer terminates an employee after learning she has been subjected to domestic violence, saying he fears the potential "drama battered women bring to the workplace.") and disability discrimination (e.g., an employee has facial scarring from skin grafts, which were necessary after she was badly burned in an attack by a former domestic partner.  When she returns to work after a lenghty hospitalization, co-workers subject her to frequent abusive comments about the skin graft scars, and her manager fails to take any action to stop the harassment).  Given these considerations, employers will want to act with precaution when dealing with an employee who may be dealing with domestic violence issues.

Wisconsin also has a "safe-place statute," Wis. Stat. section 101.11(1), which says that every employer is required to furnish both "safe employment" and a "safe place of employment."  However, not much elaboration has been made on the length and extent employers must go to in order to meet this standard and employers do not have a general duty to protect their employees from criminal acts.

Another consideration regards Wisconsin's recent enactment of the conceal weapon law which has prompted many employers and public places to create policies banning weapons on their premises.  The one exception specifically carved out involves an employee's right to conceal in their own vehicle even if the vehicle is used for employment/employer purposes.  Otherwise, if there is an incident involving a shooting in the workplace like the one that occurred at the Azana Salon & Spa, whether there is any liability for the business or employer will involve on several facts that do not appear to have been made public at this time due to the legal issues being sorted out.

It is unfortunate employers have to address issues involving weapons and violence in the workplace but if all of the best and correct measures and steps are taken then perhaps the issue is minimized and employees can do the things necessary to address domestic violence.

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