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EEOC cautions that domestic violence discrimination can be illegal

South Florida readers may remember two tragic and strangely similar incidents of workplace domestic violence that occurred over a one-week period last October, one of which happened here in Florida. Each incident involved an estranged husband coming into the salon where his wife worked and opening fire on employees in an attempt to injure or kill his wife and other employees.

These horrific episodes are a grim reminder that domestic violence can sometimes become workplace violence. For that reason, some employers may feel hesitant to hire a candidate who has been a victim of domestic violence. However, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission warns businesses that in certain contexts, such behavior may constitute illegal workplace discrimination.

In a recent news article, one employment law attorney explained that "After the attack in Wisconsin, employers have legitimate concerns about violence in the workplace. You have to be concerned about the safety of not just one employee, but of all your other employees."

The EEOC recently released a Q&A fact sheet addressing situations in which an individual's history as a victim of domestic violence either bars her employment or causes her to be dismissed.

The EEOC explained that even though domestic violence victims are not expressly protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act or under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, there are certain contexts in which discrimination against them based on their status as domestic violence victims may be illegal. These employees or candidates might also be protected under other federal anti-discrimination laws.

As such, employers must be very careful in how they address concerns related to a domestic violence victim's employment eligibility or work status, including how these concerns are worded or phrased.

The same attorney quoted earlier noted: "You may not think of issues related to domestic violence or sexual assault as falling under Title VII or the ADA, but as an employer, you need to be sensitive to that and keep in mind that the EEOC is taking the position that these laws can apply."

Domestic violence and workplace safety are two sensitive and complex issues. Anyone with questions about domestic violence and potential workplace discrimination issues may wish to speak with an experienced employment law attorney.

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

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