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I am Being Stalked or Harassed by My Partner/Ex At Work – What Are My Rights?

By Erika Jacobsen White

I am Being Stalked or Harassed by My Partner/Ex At Work – What Are My Rights?

Intimate partner violence and abuse is on the rise during the pandemic.  The statistics are staggering – 1 in 4 women and 1 in 10 men experience intimate partner violence in some form.1 Intimate partner violence can take many forms including emotional, physical, sexual or financial – it impacts women and men of every race, gender, orientation, and class.

This Blog expands upon Erika’s & Lindsay’s joint JGL Law for You Podcast Episode When Divorce, Infidelity, Harassment & the Workplace Mix:  Issues to Look Out For.

From Erika on the Employment & Sexual Harassment Law Perspectives:

Financial control is one tactic often employed by abusers to keep their victims in the cycle of dependence and abuse.  Financial abuse can take many forms: abusers may stalk or harass their victims at work, attempt to get them fired, or injuries from physical or mental abuse may keep victims out of the workplace.  So what do you do if your partner or ex is stalking or harassing you in your workplace? 

Some states have stepped up to enact robust measures to protect victims of domestic violence in the workplace.  For example, Washington, DC recently amended the DC Human Rights Act of 1977, to make it illegal for employers, employment agencies, and labor organizations in the District of Columbia to discriminate against an employee or an applicant for employment based on their status as a victim or family member of a victim of domestic violence, a sexual offense, or stalking.  California, and a number of other states also offers similar protections for employees who are victims of domestic violence.

Broadly, these laws prevent employees for being retaliated against for an abuser’s harassment, for seeking court intervention to protect themselves, or for seeking accommodations to obtain physical or mental health treatment for their abuse.  These laws also often contain requirements that put an affirmative duty on employers to take steps to increase the safety of victims at work.

However, not every state has express protections for victims of abuse in the workplace.  For example, Maryland state law does not currently provide express protections for victims of domestic violence at work, as being a victim of domestic abuse is not considered a protected class under the Maryland Fair Employment Practices Act.  Even if your state does not provide express protections for you in the workplace, you may still be protected under federal law. 

For example, domestic violence that results in the victim experiencing physical or mental injuries may require your employer to provide job-protected leave under the Family Medical Leave Act, or provide you with reasonable accommodations under the Americans with Disabilities Act.  Similarly, if your employer has different standards for men and women – such as allowing men to leave work without penalty for custody hearings, while penalizing women for taking time off to obtain a protective order, you may also have protection under Title VII for sex discrimination.

Given how critical financial independence is as a pathway for victims of domestic violence to get out of the cycle of abuse, it is critical that you take steps to protect your rights in the workplace.  If you think you are being discriminated against or retaliated against because you are a victim of domestic violence, you should contact a lawyer for help.

From Lindsay on the Family Law Perspective:

Peace and Protective Orders are civil orders that require the abuser to stop the behavior, have no contact, and stay away from the victim, victim’s home and workplace.  A person is eligible either for a Peace Order or a Protective Order, not both.  While civil orders (which means the type of case is not a criminal one), a violation of these orders (so, failure to comply) can result in criminal charges and prosecution.

Which Order is available to a victim depends upon the answers to these two questions:

  1. What is the relationship of the victim and abuser?
  2. What is the abusive behavior?

The answer to “What is the relationship?” matters because the relationship is the first step in figuring out which Order a victim is eligible for.  A Protective Order is available to a spouse, ex-spouse, cohabitant,  an individual with a child in common with the abuser, or an individual who had a sexual relationship with the abuser within 1 year of filing a Petition for Protection.  A Peace Order is available to everyone else.  So for example, current dating partners whose relationship was not sexual or ex-dating partners without a sexual relationship in the last year are eligible for a Peace Order.

The answer to “What is the abusive behavior?” matters because the behavior these Orders protect against is not the same for both Orders.  In the context of stalking and stalking-like behavior, a Protective Order protects against stalking and revenge porn, while a Peace Order protects against harassment, trespass, malicious destruction of property, criminal misuse of a phone, criminal misuse of a computer, revenge porn, and criminal visual surveillance.  Likewise, the behavior that allows a Court to grant these Orders is not the same for both Orders.

Even if the problem behavior is not eligible for a Protective Order, it may still be relevant in divorce, child custody, and potentially child support and alimony cases. 

In divorce, if the behavior is a circumstance that led to the estrangement of the parties, that’s a factor the court considers when deciding alimony and division of property.  Also, problem behavior may be considered by a court when deciding child custody if the child(ren) were exposed to the behavior and negatively impacted by it.  Finally, if the victim loses his/her job because of the abuser’s behavior, a court might not find the victim voluntarily impoverished (deliberately unemployment or underemployed to avoid paying support) for child support calculation and alimony eligibility.

When abuse arises and the abuser has a security clearance for his/her job and financial support (child support and alimony) are potential issues, the abuser may be at risk of losing his/her security clearance and job from the entry of a Peace or Protective Order.  When that is a possibility, sometimes the parties will opt for a no contact/stay away agreement and consent order, filed in the family law case (and not a Protective Order case).  While the Peace and Protective Order process has standard “fill in the blank” forms, there’s no contact/stay away agreements and consent orders and these have to be negotiated and drafted for each individual client.

When the stalking and abusive behavior between the parties occurs in their family-owned business, it is more challenging to establish protections that allow for the business to continue normally.  Normal business operations fund family cashflow and maintain the business’s value, two important considerations for property valuation in divorce and cashflow for support (alimony and child support). 

These complicated issues are best discussed with an attorney to understand the unique circumstances, available solutions, and their consequences.

  1. Evans, Megan, L., M.D., Lindauer, Margo, J.D., Farrell, Maureen E., M.D., The New England Journal of Medicine, A Pandemic within a Pandemic — Intimate Partner Violence during Covid-19, available online at ↩︎

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