One effect of the COVID-19 pandemic is that stay-at-home orders resulted in a marked increase in domestic violence worldwide, note David Gartenberg and Adam Joshua Fiss, attorneys with the law firm of Littler Mendelson.
Reports also have proliferated concerning notable increases in personal alcohol consumption, drug use, suicide and aggravation of existing mental illnesses.
Studies show that economic hardship is correlated with increases in abusive behavior towards spouses, children and the elderly.
“Compounding these economic factors are the widespread stay-at-home orders blanketing much of the globe,” Gartenberg and Fiss say. “While these orders may help slow the spread of COVID-19, the forced confinement to the home increases the odds for an incidence of domestic violence to occur.”
Earlier studies found domestic violence increases when families spend more time together, such as during Christmas holidays and summer vacations.
Another contributing factor is that stay-at-home orders hinder victims’ ability to seek help to deal with violence. Victims often need to be alone, such as when a partner leaves to go to work, in order to have an opportunity to obtain the help they need. Those opportunities to be alone dwindled.
Victims also have fewer outlets for seeking help because many courts have temporarily barred in-person hearings for obtaining restraining orders, and most domestic violence counseling services are operating remotely and also suffer from COVID-related budget constraints.
“All of this creates a perfect storm for domestic violence to not only increase in frequency, but also to go unchecked,” the attorneys point out.
The most important thing employers can do is simply be aware of the increased risk of domestic violence, and make sure that their employees who may become victims are similarly kept informed about any resources their employer may provide, according to Gartenberg and Fiss.
For example, many employers maintain employee assistance programs that provide confidential counseling and distribute information to their employees about domestic violence support groups.
When employers implement a domestic violence policy, managers should make sure they are fully knowledgeable about what accommodations domestic violence victims can access, given the increased likelihood that these may come into play, the attorneys stress.
It also is important to keep in mind that more than 20 local and state jurisdictions have adopted paid leave laws covering absences that can be taken for reasons related to domestic violence, even if the employee works remotely.
Some of these laws allow abuse victims to take protected time off to seek safe housing, obtain treatment for psychological or medical issues, or seek an injunction for protection.
At least 23 states and multiple municipalities currently also have specific statutes separate from mandatory sick leave laws to provide protection for employees who are victims of domestic violence.
At the federal level, the Family and Medical Leave Act doesn’t address domestic violence directly, but it allows for unpaid time off for employees to tend to their own serious illness or the medical condition of an immediate family member, including domestic violence-related illnesses or injuries.
“Of course, like almost everything involving COVID-19, uncertainty reigns,” the attorneys say. “Employers should remain cognizant of actions taken at the state and federal level to ensure they are complying with all applicable legal obligations, and, of course, so that employees who may be victims of domestic violence are supported.”