Domestic violence is a serious issue. So while we continue to spend time talking about the relatively lighter, and sometimes more entertaining, side of social media and employment law, appropriate attention must also be given to the important workplace issues that arise with greater ease and frequency due to social media’s grand platform.
An online report issued yesterday out of Australia entitled the “Hornsby & Upper North Shore Advocate” highlighted that “Facebook and other social media are weapons used by perpetrators of domestic violence[.]” The writer, a community support worker, suggested that people should know how to appropriately “block people” in certain situations and how to recognize signs that one is a victim of online domestic violence, since domestic violence “is also non-physical means like psychological abuse and verbal abuse.”
Employers should know that domestic violence is certainly not just a moral hazard, but also comes with certain legal implications as well. In fact, many states have laws that include domestic violence victims as within a protected class. For example, the New York State Human Rights Law was amended on July 7, 2009 (§ 296(a)) to protect victims of domestic violence from employment discrimination and retaliation.
And New York City went further, making it an unlawful practice under the City’s Human Rights Code (§ 8-107.1) to discriminate or retaliate against someone “because of the actual or perceived status of said individual as a victim of domestic violence, or as a victim of sex offenses or stalking.” Section 8-107.1 of the City Code even imposes a requirement on employers to make a “reasonable accommodation” to the needs of victims of domestic violence, sex offenses or stalking.
Employer Take Away: What should you as an employer take away from this development?
This is Domestic Violence Awareness Month, and no better time to think about another important issue that is unfortunately not going away. It is axiomatic by now that your company needs to have policies addressing anti-harassment and anti-discrimination. But your policies, practices and employee training must also address those issues as they pertain to social media use, and, specifically, to domestic violence issues that may also arise. To recognize that social media can be used to further violent intent, and to appropriately address the needs of those who fall victim to that behavior.
To say that employees’ personal lives don’t cross over into the work day and work place is to ignore what we know to be reality. When it comes to social media and your workplace policies, it may be simple to block out the bad people and the bad issues. But you should not, and cannot, bury your head in the sand and pretend the issues do not exist.