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Can an employer fire an employee accused of domestic violence?

The accusations of domestic violence against many big name athletes in the last few decades has sparked national debate on how society should be reacting to this serious safety problem. Some have called for tougher legislation that would levy harsher penalties against those convicted of the crime. Others believe more resources need to be made available to victims.

But there are a growing number of people who believe that employers should be taking steps to curb domestic violence by suspending or firing employees who are accused of committing the crime. This has become apparent with the NFL, which has fallen under scrutiny in the last few years for the way it has been handling domestic violence accusations against its players.

As you consider this issue, you may be asking the question we're posing in our title above: can an employer fire an employee accused of domestic violence? For those of our Florida readers who run or own their own business, the answer to this question is an important one because it can mean the difference between doing what they believe they have the right to do and finding out that it may be a violation of the law.

According to both the American Bar Association and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, employers have the right to establish best practices and enforce policies that dictate employee conduct. If an employee's conduct is believed to have violated these practices or policies, then an employer may have the right to fire that employee, provided the termination was not wrongful in any way.

But accusations of crimes are a difficult area for employers because of the presumption of the law, which is that a person is innocent until proven guilty. Employers who believe that an arrest or criminal accusation is a violation of company policy must be careful when addressing termination of employment as it could lead to litigation if an employee is found innocent or the charges are dismissed later on.

Although the EEOC and the ABA offer guidance to employers on how to handle criminal charges and termination of an employee, the advice given by these entities is very general and does not account for state specific laws that may differ in application. Our Florida readers are encouraged to seek legal counsel when dealing with this issue as it could be very problematic for employers.

Sources: The American Bar Association, "Employment Law and Domestic Violence," Julie Goldscheid and Robin Runge, 2009

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, "Consideration of Arrest and Conviction Records in Employment Decisions Under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964," April 25, 2012

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