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How should employers handle employees accused of domestic abuse?

If one of your employees is accused of domestic violence, what is your responsibility as an employer? Domestic abuse may seem like a private matter, but it also has implications on the workplace.

As an employer, you want to do what’s best for your company and your employees. However, you also need to keep in mind what actions may put you at risk of a lawsuit. Today we examine some key considerations in dealing with domestic abuse allegations.

If you have reason to believe an employee may be an abuser, you should be prepared to investigate the matter further. Have a representative from human resources (HR) speak with the person in question, informing them of the accusations and the investigation, and reassuring them that there is no automatic presumption of guilt. HR can also connect the employee with counseling services and employee assistance program (EAP) services.

You may want to hire an unbiased, third-party investigator to collect all relevant facts concerning the allegations. This person should conduct interviews with the employee in question as well as with any other relevant witnesses. The findings of this investigation can help you determine disciplinary action.

While the investigation is underway, you may elect to put the employee on leave—arranging to bring them back on if their allegations are cleared. In determining next steps, here are some other factors you should consider:

  • What does your workplace policy say? Are there any sections that address domestic violence or off-duty conduct? Such clauses can give you additional freedom to terminate.
  • Has the employee been convicted? Firing an employee over an accusation only puts you at risk of a wrongful termination suit.
  • Can you demonstrate that the continued employment of the accused person poses a direct threat to workplace safety or the company’s business interests? For instance, is the alleged victim also employed at the company? Is the accused in a leadership position? Such factors can help you build a case for termination.
  • Have there been similar situations in the past, and how did the company respond? You want be sure to respond consistently in order to avoid a possible discrimination suit.

Domestic abuse is a serious crime. If your employee is facing such allegations, it’s important to understand the right way to respond in order to keep your company out of legal trouble.

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