Domestic Violence and the Workplace: What Maine Employers Need to Know

By Rudman Winchell Attorney Matthew Cobb 

According to statistics compiled by the Maine Coalition to End Domestic Violence, there were 5,593 arrests for domestic violence crimes in 2012, representing almost half of all assaults reported to Maine law enforcement that year. Many more incidents likely went unreported. In 2013, 11 of the 24 homicides in Maine were related to domestic violence. These troubling statistics demonstrate that Maine employers are certain to have employees who have been or will be impacted in one way or another by domestic violence. As a result, employers should be aware of the federal and state laws that may be applicable to an employee who has been affected by domestic violence.

State and federal laws requiring protected periods of leave from work may apply to employees who themselves are victims of domestic violence or who need to care for family members who are victims of domestic violence. Pursuant to Maine law, 26 M.R.S. § 850, an employer must grant reasonable and necessary leave from work for an employee to receive medical treatment as a result of domestic violence or to attend to the medical treatment of their child or parent if the child or parent is a victim of domestic violence. An employer is also obligated to grant an employee reasonable and necessary leave to obtain services to remedy a crisis caused by domestic violence, sexual assault or stalking. Additionally, employees may be entitled to protected leave under the federal Family Medical Leave Act or the Maine Family Medical Leave Requirements law if they have sustained a qualifying medical condition as a result of a domestic violence or if they need to care for certain family members who have sustained a qualifying medical condition as a result of domestic violence.

An employee who has suffered a serious physical or mental injury as a result of domestic violence may also be disabled for purposes of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) or the Maine Human Rights Act (MHRA). Both laws require employers to provide reasonable accommodations to employees with disabilities. For example, an employee who develops post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as a result of domestic violence would likely be disabled under either set of laws. An employer may be required to allow an employee suffering PTSD to work a modified work schedule in order to attend necessary mental health therapy or counseling sessions as a reasonable accommodation. These disability laws may also require an employer to provide an employee with a protected period of leave from work as a reasonable accommodation for a disability even if the employer is not subject to one of the medical leave laws noted above.

The prohibitions against sexual or sex-based harassment in the MHRA and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 may also be applicable to situations involving domestic violence arising from workplace relationships. Such harassment may create a hostile work environment in violation of the MHRA or Title VII if it is so severe or pervasive that it alters an employee’s terms and conditions of employment. For example, a violation of either law may exist if an employer does not take prompt and sufficient action after an employee makes her employer aware that she is being stalked and continuously harassed by her ex-boyfriend who happens to be a coworker.

For more examples concerning the potential applicability of Title VII or the ADA to employees who experience domestic violence, see the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s guidance on this topic.             

Domestic violence awareness and prevention have become top priorities for all three branches of Maine’s government. Yet despite recent efforts, domestic violence continues to be a recurring problem in our communities. As a result, employers should be mindful of the federal and state laws that may apply to employees who have been impacted by domestic violence and should be prepared to act promptly and appropriately when they become aware of such issues.

DISCLAIMER: These materials have been prepared and provided for educational purposes only. They should not be considered legal advice. The transmission of this information is not intended to create a lawyer-client relationship. Readers should not act upon this information without seeking professional counsel. Do not send any confidential or private information to Rudman Winchell until a formal attorney-client relationship has been established in writing.