Domestic Violence and the Workplace: The Explosion of State Legislation and the Need for a Comprehensive Strategy
Deborah A. Widiss
Indiana University Maurer School of Law
August 5, 2008
Brooklyn Law School, Legal Studies Paper No. 90
In recent years, domestic violence legislation has migrated out of its traditional locus in family law and criminal law to include a rapidly growing body of employment law. The new laws respond to a relatively simple problem: Economic security is one of the most important factors in whether a victim of domestic violence will be able to separate from an abusive partner, but domestic violence often interferes with victims' ability to maintain jobs, thus causing job loss that further traps victims in abusive relationships. By providing supports to victims and empowering employers to take direct legal action against perpetrators of actual or threatened workplace violence, the new legislation helps employers and employees work together to address a shared interest in reducing the effects of domestic violence on the workplace. Thus addressing domestic violence as an ýemploymentý issue bolsters other strategies for combating domestic violence. Equally important, because the vast majority of victims of domestic violence are women, the new legislation complements traditional employment laws, such as Title VII and the Family and Medical Leave Act, that seek to promote sex equality by addressing a significant, though little recognized, barrier to women's full participation in the workplace.
This article situates the burgeoning body of new state legislation within developments in domestic violence law and employment law, particularly scholarship relating to accommodation of individual needs within the workplace. It shows that domestic violence legislation modeled on employment law accommodation mandates, such as the Family and Medical Leave Act or the Americans with Disabilities Act, import provisions in those laws that excuse relatively small or resource-poor employers. By contrast, new laws borrowing from criminal justice, public health, or unemployment insurance models either impose costs on all employers or spread costs among employers. The article concludes by making several recommendations for future reform, including better capitalizing on potential synergies among various approaches, consciously facilitating cooperation between employers and employees, and considering use of public expenditures to address certain workplace-related expenses as part of the larger societal commitment to combat domestic violence.
Number of Pages in PDF File: 61
Keywords: domestic violence, workplace, employment, discrimination
Date posted: August 7, 2008