A few weeks ago, my son started school at a local synagogue.  When I opened his backpack on Friday, I found a note from his teacher.  It read, “In honor of Rosh Hashanah (the Jewish New Year), please send in a mitzvah note for your child (a good deed that your child did).” My 27-month-old wanted to bring cookies to firefighters. So, this past weekend, I dressed him up as a little firefighter, stopped by Publix to pick up cookies, and headed over to the local fire department.  The firefighters were extremely gracious, showed my son the fire truck and let him sit in the driver’s seat and ring the bells.

My idea of a “mitzvah” was slightly different, so after nap time, we headed over to a local shelter for battered women and brought them some basic necessities and toys for their children. During our visit, I met an incredible young woman who had been badly battered by her boyfriend. Not only had she suffered physical and emotional abuse, but her boyfriend incessantly called her employer in an effort to get her fired. After beating her so severely that she ended up in the emergency room and missing work, her employer fired her because she had exhausted all of her sick time and he didn’t want “someone with so many personal problems at his company.” As a result of losing her job, she could not pay her rent, was evicted, and ultimately became homeless.

As I drove home from the shelter, I was haunted by this woman’s story and wondered whether her employer was aware of Miami-Dade County’s Non-Discrimination Ordinance. This Ordinance was amended last year and now prohibits discrimination based on “actual or perceived status as a victim of domestic violence, dating violence or stalking.” I don’t remember this amendment receiving much media attention or discussion in any blogs. The Ordinance already prohibits employment discrimination based on race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, sex, pregnancy, age, disability, marital status, familial status, sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression.

In addition, numerous states require private-sector employers to provide unpaid leave to victims of domestic violence.  For example, Florida law requires employers with 50 or more employees to provide eligible employees [employees who have worked 3 or more months for the employer] 3 working days of leave in any 12-month period, if the employee or a family or household member is a victim of domestic violence or sexual violence, so the employee can:

  • Seek an injunction for protection against domestic violence, repeat violence, dating violence, or sexual violence;
  • Obtain medical care or mental health counseling for the employee or a family or household member to address physical or psychological injuries resulting from the domestic or sexual violence;
  • Obtain services from a victim services organization;
  • Make the employee’s home secure from the domestic or sexual violence perpetrator or to seek new housing to escape the perpetrator; or
  • Seek legal assistance to address issues arising from the domestic or sexual violence and to attend and prepare for court-related proceedings arising from the domestic or sexual violence.

The leave may be with or without pay, at the employer’s discretion.

Miami-Dade County (as well as several other counties in Florida) has an Ordinance similar to Florida, but has different eligibility requirements and offers more time off.   For example, under the County Ordinance, an eligible employee [person who has been employed by the employer in Miami-Dade County for at least 308 hours of service during the previous 90 days] is entitled to a total of 30 work days of unpaid domestic leave during any 12-month period for similar reasons as the state law.

Employer takeaway: Covered employers should review and revise their EEO and leave policies to ensure compliance with Florida law and applicable ordinances, educate their managers concerning the new protected classes, and consult with experienced employment counsel concerning any questions.