• Domestic Violence in the Louisiana Workplace, Part 9: 2017 Legislative Update
  • July 25, 2017 | Author: Rachael M. Coe
  • Law Firm: Breazeale, Sachse & Wilson, L.L.P. - New Orleans Office
  • It is not a matter of if, but when an employer will be confronted with a challenging domestic violence-related issue in the workplace. Domestic violence not only causes lost productivity and increased costs for employers, but also raises a host of potential legal obligations and liabilities that employers cannot afford to overlook. In this series, Labor and Employment attorney Rachael Coe will discuss the various ways that domestic violence impacts the Louisiana workplace and what employers need to know in order to protect their employees, their customers, and themselves.

    Employers take note: some of Louisiana’s domestic violence laws are changing on August 1, 2017 to expand coverage and protections to same-sex couples and dating partners, and employers need to be aware of the Legislature’s actions in order to comply with their legal obligations and reduce various legal risks.

    Governor Edwards recently signed two pieces of legislation from the 2017 Regular Session that expand the definition of “household members” across several Louisiana domestic violence statutes to include same-sex couples, establishes new crimes and remedies for violence between “dating partners,” and creates a new “crime of violence” that generates additional legal risks for employers. These changes are significant because domestic violence protections now encompass more people than ever—many of whom may be your employees.

    First, same-sex couples are now covered by Louisiana’s criminal domestic violence laws and the civil (non-criminal) Domestic Violence Abuse Assistance Act, which cover people who live together. The crimes of domestic abuse battery and domestic abuse aggravated assault, as well as the civil (non-criminal) remedies available under the Louisiana Domestic Abuse Assistance Act was previously limited to acts of violence committed by one “household member or family member” upon another household member or family member. La. R.S. § 14:35.3(A); La. R.S. § 14:37.7(A);La. R.S. § 46:2132(4). A “household member” was defined as a “person of the opposite sex, presently or formerly living in the same residence with the offender as a spouse, whether married or not.” The revised laws redefine “household member” by removing the opposite sex and spousal status requirements, as well as expanding the definition to include those “who is or has been involved in a sexual or intimate relationship with the offender.” As such, more people are covered by the criminal laws and can seek protection under the civil law, most notably including same-sex couples.

    The Legislature also created two new crimes specific to “dating partners”: aggravated assault upon a dating partner and battery of a dating partner. A “dating partner” is defined as “any person who is involved or has been involved in a sexual or intimate relationship with the offender…regardless of whether the person presently lives or formerly lived in the same residence with the offender.” Unlike the existing laws discussed above, these new crimes encompass individuals who do not live together. The legislation also designated aggravated assault upon a dating partner as a “crime of violence,” which has important implications for employers that are discussed below.

    As more Louisianans are encompassed by Louisiana’s domestic violence laws, it is more important than ever for employers to be aware of how to properly handle domestic violence situations that arise in the workplace. Domestic violence has far-reaching effects in the workplace, discussed extensively in my eight-part Domestic Violence in the Louisiana Workplace series, but here are a few key issues that employers should keep in mind:

    First, an employer’s actions towards and treatment of an employee based on the employee’s status as a domestic abuse victim could give rise to a sex discrimination claim, according to the EEOC. Now that same-sex couples are included under the law, gender stereotyping claims may also arise.

    Second, some domestic abuse victims may qualify as “disabled” under the Americans with Disabilities Act or a person with a “serious health condition” under the Family Medical Leave Act. These employees may be entitled to reasonable accommodations or leave from work.

    Third, employers must be attentive to the risk of workplace violence from known threats. Mitigation for such threats includes being aware of any restraining orders an employee might have against the abuser, as well as recognizing the possibility and dangers associated with stalking.

    Fourth, employers should be cognizant of the risks involved with hiring individuals convicted of domestic abuse aggravated assault and the new crime of aggravated assault upon a dating partner, which are both considered a “crime of violence.” Crimes that the law categorizes as a “crime of violence” exposes an employer to claims for negligent hiring or supervision for acts of an employee who was previously convicted of any “crime of violence.” Of course, an employer should not have a blanket policy to automatically fire or refuse to hire somebody because of a conviction. Such a policy can expose the employer to serious legal risks. The facts of each situation will vary widely, and there are many factors to consider in making hiring or firing decisions. However, the new crime of aggravated assault upon a dating partner may present new challenges in making hiring decisions.

    The Louisiana Legislature’s new domestic violence laws and amendments expand coverage and protection for same-sex couples and dating partners. Many of these individuals could be your employees. Therefore, employers should be prepared to properly respond to the many situations that may arise in the workplace as a result.