Domestic and sexual violence is now in the news almost every day, and New Hampshire has followed its neighboring state, Massachusetts, in enacting protective legislation.  As of August 8, 2014 most Massachusetts employers became obligated to provide leave from work to victims of domestic violence to enable them to seek treatment, obtain restraining orders or cooperate with law enforcement.  New Hampshire has for many years provided similar protections to victims of all crimes.  Now, effective September 9, 2014 New Hampshire employers are prohibited from discriminating against victims of domestic violence in the terms and conditions of their employment.  Pursuant to RSA 275:71 it is an unlawful employment practice for an employer to refuse to hire an otherwise qualified individual because the individual is a victim of domestic violence, harassment, sexual assault, or stalking.    Businesses are also prohibited from discharging, threatening to discharge, demoting, suspending, or in any manner discriminating or retaliating against an individual with regard to promotion, compensation or other terms, conditions, or privileges of employment because the individual is a victim of domestic violence, harassment, sexual assault, or stalking.

This legislation passed earlier in 2014 in an amended format in a compromise action by the New Hampshire House and Senate.  Original versions of the bill would have required employers to provide reasonable safety accommodations which might include leaves of absence or job restructuring.  The version of the bill which passed included the prohibitions above and also established a committee to study the protection of employees from domestic violence and to report its findings and make recommendations for future legislation.

Domestic and sexual violence have gotten significant press recently whether due to off field behavior by NFL players or the activities of college students on campuses nationwide.  However, the statistics have remained fairly constant.  As long ago as 2000 the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence reported that one in every four women will experience domestic violence in her lifetime.  What that means for employers is that there are likely multiple victims of violence by an intimate partner in your workplace, and the law continues to evolve in ways which seek to enhance protections for these victims.

Employers should be mindful of this statute when they learn that workers they employ might be victims of domestic or sexual violence.  Before taking any action to discipline or terminate an employee who might be a victim, take the time to consult with counsel to make certain you are not running afoul of the many laws which provide protection to your employees.