Battered and fired

Is it OK to fire an abuse victim for requesting time off after being beaten by a spouse?

Published July 26, 2007 10:55PM (EDT)

Should battered women be fired for requesting time off after being beaten up by a spouse? Should an abused spouse lose her job for fear that her husband will terrorize the workplace? Eleven states around the nation (as well as some cities) have laws that protect battered men or women from suffering further abuse at the hands of their employers. After all, domestic abuse is a crime. If an employee reported being mugged in the street, the first response wouldn't be to issue a pink slip, right?

But that's precisely what happened to Adriana Becerril, when after being attacked by her ex-husband last September, she was unable to report to her first day of work as the director of a daycare center in the South Bronx. According to a story today in Women's eNews, Becerril sought four days of medical leave -- in part because she didn't want the children under her care to see the bloody work of her ex-husband, who had clobbered her with a flower pot in front of their four children. But before she could return to work the following week, she received a FedEx letter informing her that she'd been fired.

Though Becerril went on to get a job at another preschool, this year she decided to sue her former employer under a 2003 New York City law that requires employers to "reasonably accommodate" the needs of domestic violence victims. Becerril's case -- in which she seeks lost wages, compensation and benefits as well as compensatory damages for emotional distress and injury to her reputation -- is only the second of its kind to be tried since the law was passed. The article also notes that according to the New York-based women's advocacy law group Legal Momentum, half of all victims of domestic violence say they lost their jobs after being abused.

As reported by the Women's eNews, Becerril's suit is a simple matter of serving justice where justice is due. But at the risk of being labeled a reactionary cretin, I don't see it that way. As the mother of a preschooler, I'd have serious doubts about sending my child to a daycare center where the director is being beaten up by her spouse. For one thing, taking care of young kids is emotionally arduous work, and you don't want a director to be distracted by working through such serious trauma in her personal life. And for that personal trauma to affect her work the very first week she begins the job has to constitute a giant red flag.

Which brings me to my last question about this particular case: In the context of creating a safe place for young children, should our laws require that employers put the needs of an employee above the needs of the vulnerable community they serve?

By Carol Lloyd

Carol Lloyd is currently at work on a book about the gentrification wars in San Francisco's Mission District.

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