Thursday, 5 June 2008

Case: USA Unlawful Dismissal because worker sacked due to domestic violence complaint

A recent US case,Steel v Snowline Industries, from Oregon, is a useful illustration of how domestic violence matters can impact at work.

Allison Steel sought and was granted a civil protection order against an abusive co-worker, which prevented him from coming to work. Soon after, she was fired by their employer Snowline Manufacturing Oregon.

Allison Steel took Snowline to court alleging unlawful dismissal. She was successful, obtaining a payout of $27,500, part of which was under the common law. In addition to any statutory rights, workers in Australia may have rights under common law.

The jury, apparently for the first time,found that the employer had breached an Oregon statute which prohibits retaliation for initiating or testifying in a civil proceeding or for filing a criminal complaint, and applied it to a domestic violence victim’s application for or seeking enforcement of a restraining order or reporting an abuser’s criminal activity.

In Australia if the employer's behaviours were to be repeated, aside from the possibility of the payout, the employer and its various responsible managers/directors may have committed criminal offences. For example, the Criminal Code Queensland provides:

A person who, without reasonable cause, causes, or threatens
to cause, any injury or detriment to a ............witness.....or a
member of the family of a ..... witness ..... in retaliation because
(b) anything lawfully done by the .....witness in any
judicial proceeding; is guilty of a crime.
Maximum penalty—7 years imprisonment.

If as an employer you sack (or even threaten to sack) an employee because they are making complaint to police about a fellow employee who is alleged to be committing domestic violence against the first employee, you may be looking at jail time.

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