By Amy Robinson
As you may have noticed by now, October was Domestic Violence Awareness Month. You’ve no doubt seen the latest headlines and stories chronicling the prevalence of domestic abuse in the U.S., as well as stories of hope and triumph by those fortunate enough to have escaped the cycle of abuse. If you are a football fan, and more particularly a Seahawks fan like myself, you may have even heard about an initiative called Pass the Peace, started by Seattle Seahawks’ Quarterback Russell Wilson, to promote awareness about domestic violence and to raise funds for the National Domestic Violence Hotline.
If you are fortunate, domestic violence is an issue that hasn’t touched your life or the life of anyone that you love. Statistics suggest, however, that if you are reading this it’s more likely that it has. In fact, according to a 2010 study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) 1 in every 5 women, and 1 in every 10 men will experience domestic violence at some point in their lifetime. Statistics also show that one of the most effective tools a domestic abuse perpetrator uses to keep his or her victim under “control” is preventing them from maintaining a job that could provide a sense of independence or financial security. Not surprisingly, the impacts of domestic violence on the workplace extend beyond the individual victim to the business bottom line. A previous study done by the CDC estimated that domestic violence victims nationwide lose almost 8 million days of paid work each year to address the incidental effects of abuse, resulting in a cost of nearly $6 billion in health care and lost productivity alone.
Recognizing these unfortunate realities, Oregon and Washington were two of the first states in the nation to enact mandatory unpaid leave for victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, or stalking. Although they have been in effect since 2010, many employers and employees aren’t aware that these laws may provide job protected, unpaid time off for activities like court proceedings, counseling, medical appointments, or safety or relocation efforts when needed by employees of covered employers. This leave entitlement extends to employees who are parents or guardians of a minor child or dependent who is the victim of domestic violence, sexual assault, or stalking and needs the employee’s assistance in attending court proceedings, medical or mental health appointments, and other related activities. Washington’s version also extends to time off for an employee to assist a “spouse, parent, parent-in-law, grandparent, or person with whom the employee has a dating relationship” with such activities.
If you are an employer subject to these laws but don’t already have a domestic violence leave policy in place, it is strongly recommended that you do so. An ideal policy will inform employees about the availability of this leave, procedures required to make use of such leave, and the designated contact person, or persons, who are sufficiently trained and prepared to appropriately field questions, requests for leave, and provide resources, where appropriate. Having an up-to-date leave policy that is tailored to your business, as well as education and training so that those managing employees or attendance know how to properly respond to leave requests and other work-related impacts, will not only help you avoid costly and avoidable mistakes and misunderstandings in your workplace, it may play an important part in helping to end the cycle of domestic abuse.
In addition to providing the required domestic violence leave, employers today are also expected to be proactive to ensure that violence, including domestic violence, does not intrude into the workplace and harm their employees. The federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) strongly recommends enacting a Workplace Violence Prevention program. A helpful fact sheet and additional resources can be found online at: https://www.osha.gov/SLTC/workplaceviolence/evaluation.html. Washington’s state counterpart likewise has resources available here: http://www.lni.wa.gov/Safety/Topics/AtoZ/WPV/default.asp. Oregon’s may be found here: http://www.orosha.org/subjects/violence_in_workplace.html#.VFEhTRbxD8t.
As always, we hope that you have found this reminder informative and encourage you to work with qualified legal professionals if you are in need of individualized guidance or advice with regard to domestic violence leave compliance or development of a workplace violence prevention plan. Of course, if we can be of any assistance to you, don’t hesitate to call.
For information, assistance, or other resources related to domestic violence, there is a national hotline available (1-800-799-7233 or TTY 1-800-7487-3224), as well as numerous resources available statewide including the Washington State Coalition Against Domestic Violence (WSCADV): http://wscadv2.org/gethelpnow.cfm and Oregon’s Domestic Violence Resource Center http://www.dvrc-or.org/.
The employment lawyers at Jordan Ramis were all human resource professionals before becoming licensed attorneys and each holds a certification from the Human Resource Certification Institute. At Jordan Ramis, we are proud to say that our employment lawyers know HR and the law.
This article is intended to inform the reader of general legal principles applicable to the subject area. It is not intended to provide legal advice regarding specific problems or circumstances. Readers should consult with competent counsel with regard to specific situations.
 See, ORS 659A.272, RCW 49.76.
 In Washington, it means all employers regardless of size. In Oregon, this means employer with at least 6 employees during at least 20 work weeks in the current year or the year prior. 659A.270(1).
 RCW 49.76.020(5).