People who are or have been victims of domestic violence (including dating violence, sexual assault or stalking) have enough to deal with without worrying about facing discrimination or harassment at work or even possible termination because of their experience. Yet, being the victim of violence or stalking isn’t a protected category when it comes to workplace discrimination.
However, there are certain aspects of both Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 as well as the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) that can offer some protection. Let’s look at just a couple of examples of how these two historic federal laws can give victims grounds to protect themselves from workplace discrimination.
Anyone can be the victim of domestic violence or stalking. However, gender-based stereotypes around these crimes are still prevalent. Anything from an employer not allowing a woman time off to testify against her abuser because he sees the problem as a “family issue” to a potential employer not hiring a man who’s been the victim of violence because she thinks “real men” should stand up for themselves can qualify as gender-based discrimination.
Many people don’t realize that the ADA protects people with emotional as well as physical disabilities. Domestic violence can leave people with either or both. Depression, for example, is a common issue for victims. Even if someone doesn’t suffer from depression, if a potential employer learns that an applicant has suffered domestic violence, they may assume they have mental health issues and decline to hire them — and that’s discrimination.
A person who has been subjected to physical harm by an abuser that has left visible scars can be the target of harassment in the workplace. That type of harassment is no different than that experienced by people with disabilities who might require a wheelchair or hearing aids.
Unfortunately, victims of domestic violence and stalking are often viewed by others as weak and vulnerable. This can cause them to be subjected to discrimination, harassment and potentially even more violence and/or stalking by co-workers or supervisors. If this is the case for you or someone you love, it’s wise to seek legal guidance.