Workplace Accommodations for Victims of Domestic Violence
Director of Compliance
Many employers know they have a duty to reasonably accommodate qualified individuals with a disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act and employee religious beliefs and practices under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. They also commonly understand that under the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978 temporarily disabled pregnant employees must be treated the same as other temporarily disabled employees when it comes to workplace accommodations. But are there other circumstances when employers may need to provide employees with a reasonable accommodation?
Domestic violence is a huge problem in the United States and Canada, and many states, provinces, and territories have passed or are considering passing laws giving employment protections to employees who are victims of domestic or family violence. New York is one of these states. But while the New York State Human Rights Law (NYSHRL) has long prohibited employment discrimination against domestic violence victims, the NYSHRL was recently amended to expand protections for known victims of domestic violence. Effective November 18, 2019, these amendments include but are not limited to providing reasonable time off to employees as an accommodation for the following reasons:
To seek medical attention for any injuries caused by domestic violence including treatment for a child who is a victim, provided the employee is not the perpetrator of the domestic violence against the child.
To obtain services from a domestic violence shelter, program, or rape crises center as a result of domestic violence.
To receive psychological counseling related to domestic violence, including for a child victim, provided the employee did not commit the domestic violence against the child.
To participate in safety planning and take other actions to increase safety from future incidents of domestic violence, including temporary or permanent relocation.
To obtain legal services, to assist in prosecuting the offense, or to appear in court relating to an incident of domestic violence.
As is the case with other reasonable accommodation obligations, employers are not required to provide the requested time off for these reasons if the absence would cause undue hardship to their business. If leave is granted, however, employers may charge the time off against any paid leave the employee has available but must continue any healthcare coverage to which the employee is entitled. New York State employers should review their employment policies and handbooks to reflect these new accommodation obligations and train managers and HR professionals on this new entitlement.
And remember, although many other places in the United states and Canada require employers to provide domestic or family violence leave to employees, these laws vary as to the reasons for leave, the definition of violence, how much time off is granted, notice and certification requirements, and use of paid leave. Employers everywhere should review the law wherever they have employees, or contact legal counsel, to determine what legal obligations they may have toward employees who are victims of domestic or family violence.
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