Domestic violence is wrong. So are many other actions such as driving while intoxicated, check fraud, soliciting for sex, speeding, public drunkenness, etc. Of course, we have criminal laws against such actions in order to maintain the type of society that we deem to be acceptable. Enforcement of our laws requires that the applicable criminal justice system “prove” that wrongful conduct occurred before an individual is punished.
But what about those criminal laws in the context of the workplace? Does an employer have a say in the matter when its employee is accused of a crime?
As we see in the media, the answer can be yes. An employer often does get involved when it learns of criminal accusations against an employee. Employers obtain knowledge in many ways – news coverage for a high profile individual or particularly scandalous accusations, the local newspaper that prints arrest information, mug shot websites searched by co-workers, posts on social media sites, the employee calling in to report that he or she is in jail, etc.
Then, an employer tends to react by evaluating how the accusations reflect on the business and impact its other employees and customers. With current accusations of criminal activity pending against an employee, most all accusations can be seen as impacting the employer, co-workers and/or customers.
Next, an employer typically will determine whether it can manage the impact of the accusations or whether it needs or wants to disassociate itself with the individual accused. Unlike the criminal justice system, an employer does not need proof that the conduct occurred. Merely being accused can be enough of a basis for an employer to act. Since most employees are employed at-will and state law does not protect an employee from punishment for unlawful off-duty conduct, an employer typically can decide that mere accusations of unlawful off-duty conduct can be a basis for termination or other disciplinary action like suspension. In the handful of states that do protect lawful off-duty conduct, an employer must be sure that the conduct of which it disapproves actually is unlawful.
So what if anything is unique about an employee accused of domestic violence? Probably nothing. An employee who is accused of assault is likely to be met with disdain by his or her employer because of the natural reaction to assume that if the employee can hurt person X, the employee can hurt others. In most states, in most circumstances, an employer is totally within its rights to make the determination that removing the employee from the workplace is the best option.