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EEOC watching for discrimination against domestic abuse victims

Many Americans undoubtedly remember well two tandem and sad stories from just a couple months ago that played out in different states of the country. In Milwaukee, Wisconsin, a man entered a hair salon where his wife worked and shot and killed her and two co-workers. The man had become enraged after his estranged partner obtained a restraining order against him for previous acts of domestic violence.

The other situation was closer to home, entailing a similar situation. A man entered a salon in Orlando and wounded his wife. Tragically, three of her fellow workers died in that attack.

Employers across the country, including in Florida, have thought about those incidents, with many of them asking themselves this question: Can our company relocate or terminate the employment of a worker who has suffered or is currently experiencing domestic abuse out of fear that a current or ex-partner might enter the workplace and do harm to other persons who work with the victim?

That is a very slippery slope to contemplate, and a matter that has been addressed recently by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). The commission is concerned that the proper balance be struck between an employer's right to ensure a safe workplace and a worker's concomitant right to not unlawfully suffer employment discrimination.

No federal law expressly bars discrimination against domestic violence victims, but that hardly means that an employer can summarily fire a worker by noting "what if" possibilities. Recently, the EEOC has published a Q&A fact sheet with examples that make it very clear that protecting workers who are victims of violence is a strong interest, and that an employer's actions must be clearly based on justifiable concerns and credible threats.

In other words, the EEOC is watching, and employers must tread carefully.

Source: Inside Counsel, "EEOC warns employers of discrimination related to domestic violence," Mary Swanton, Dec. 21, 2012

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