Protecting Educators Who Are Victims of Domestic Violence

teachers_domestic_violenceMany schools have beefed up resources to help protect children who are victims of domestic abuse and to ensure they stay safe while at school. Unfortunately, some of that same sensitivity eludes educators who are victims of domestic violence. In many states, the stigma that often follows victims of domestic abuse can cost an educator her job.

The experience of Carie Charlesworth is a cautionary tale. A Southern California parochial school dismissed the second grade teacher in 2013 due to security concerns about her estranged husband who had shown up in the school parking lot, prompting a school lockdown.

“In the interest of the safety of the students, faculty and parents at Holy Trinity School, we simply cannot allow you to return to work there or, unfortunately, at any other school in the Diocese,” school officials wrote in a 2013 letter released to the media.

Fortunately educators in a growing number of states no longer have to worry about facing a similar fate.

Last August, Massachusetts became the latest state to guarantee workplace protections for employees threatened by domestic abuse. It now requires employers of 50 or more to provide employees with up to 15 days of unpaid leave in any 12-month period if they or a family member are victims of abusive behavior. It also prohibits employers from discharging or discriminating against an employee for exercising the right to take leave.

Massachusetts employers also are barred from making leave contingent upon whether the employee maintains contact with the alleged abuser.

California enacted workplace protections for domestic violence victims just months after Charlesworth was let go and now says an employer can’t fire an employee for being a domestic violence victim. California employers also must make reasonable accommodations to secure the workplace for the victim’s safety.

Domestic violence survivors also have job protections in Arkansas, Florida, Colorado, Connecticut, Hawaii, Illinois, Kansas, Maine, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oregon, Rhode Island and Washington.

Cities with their own protections include Jersey City, N.J., New York, Philadelphia, Portland, Ore., San Francisco, Seattle and Washington, D.C.

Past efforts to enact federal workplace protections for domestic violence victims have failed. But NEA members don’t have to rely on lawmakers for these protections. Many of the protections enacted are negotiable:

  • The amount of leave allowed to find housing, deal with court dates and attend to other issues relating to the domestic violence.
  • Steps to secure the workplace for the victim’s safety.
  • A ban on discrimination against domestic violence victims.
  • Procedures for permitting, or turning away an educator’s visitors.
  • Procedures for releasing confidential information.

Victims of domestic abuse have enough to worry about without fearing they may lose their jobs. Educators should take a cue from the handful of progressive states and jurisdictions that have passed domestic victim protections and add them to their contract.