On August 2, 2004, the North Carolina General Assembly enacted a new Workplace Violence Prevention law, which allows employers to take more proactive steps against workplace violence but also places new restrictions on employers’ ability to discipline or discharge for attendance.
Under the new Workplace Violence Prevention law, North Carolina employers will be able to apply for civil “no contact orders” (or injunctions) on behalf of their employees to protect them from workplace violence resulting from domestic violence, stalking and harassment. The law also prohibits “discrimination” against employees who miss work to pursue certain legal remedies related to domestic violence. In enacting this new legislation, North Carolina has followed 12 other states that have issued similar laws since 1995.
The law permits employers to initiate a civil action in district court against any individual who has engaged in violence, harassment, or threats toward an employee that might reasonably be carried out in the workplace. Available relief includes the issuance of a temporary or permanent injunction ordering the respondent not to visit the workplace, injure the employer’s property or otherwise interfere with the employer’s operations, stalk or harass the employee at the workplace, contact the employer, or contact the employee at the workplace.
Before seeking an injunction on behalf of an employee, the employer must consult with the employee to determine whether he or she has any safety-related concerns about participating in the process. Employers may not discipline employees on whose behalf they wish to file an action because the employees are reluctant or unwilling to cooperate with the process.
In an effort to give employees ample opportunity to obtain protective orders on their own initiative, the new statute also restricts employers’ ability to discipline or discharge employees who take reasonable time off to pursue legal action seeking relief from domestic violence under North Carolina law. Protected activities under the statute include seeking a protective order or emergency relief for the employee or for a minor child who lives with or is in the custody of the employee.
Employees who miss work to seek domestic violence relief still must follow their employers’ attendance policies or procedures, including any requirements that employees give advance notice of absences, unless an emergency prevents them from doing so. Also, employers may require employees to submit available documentation regarding reasons for absences or any emergencies that might have prevented the employees from complying with the usual absence notification policies.
The anti-discrimination provision is to be enforced by the North Carolina Department of Labor, which is expected to issue rules and regulations regarding implementation.
The new Workplace Violence Prevention law will become effective on December 1, 2004 and will be codified at N.C. Gen. Stat. §§ 95-260, et seq.
If you have a question about the North Carolina Workplace Violence Prevention law as it affects your company, please contact any attorney in Constangy’s Winston-Salem, North Carolina, office (336-721-1001).