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Violence: Order of Protection: How do we handle a situation when a married couple who works together have filed for divorce and one spouse has an order of protection against the other spouse?

An order of protection is issued by a court in situations of domestic violence. Although an employer might not be specifically mentioned as a party bound by the order, an employer should very carefully monitor the employee's behavior in the workplace. If an employer observes any unusual behaviors or statements made by the employee whom the order is against, it should take necessary steps to ensure the safety of its entire workplace.

Ensure Workplace Safety
Under the Occupational Safety and Health Act general duty clause, employers have a requirement to provide a safe environment for all employees. If an employer is put on notice that domestic violence exists and the threats are affecting employees at the workplace, the employer must act on that knowledge. If the employer mishandles this situation, it can result in enormous liability, including loss of lives.

Review Relevant Policies
If an employer has a policy that sets forth behavioral expectations in the workplace, this policy may extend to interactions among co-worker spouses or those having recently filed for divorce. Employers may also have a policy that dictates steps to be taken when restraining orders or orders of protections are served to employees during work hours. For example, the policy may identify persons who must be notified immediately after the order is served and outline steps to be taken in situations where two employees are court-ordered to stay away from each other.

Assess and Monitor
The issuance of an order of protection does not mean that an employee has committed a crime. Therefore, an employer must not rush to suspend or terminate an employee. Instead, an employer should closely monitor the employee's behavior, temperament and exchanges with other employees or witnesses. An employer may speak privately with the employee to gauge how the employee is feeling, what he or she is thinking and whether the employee may pose a threat to the workplace. An employer may also direct the employee to the employee assistance program or counseling sessions if its offers such services through its benefits plan.

In all situations involving court orders, employers must seek legal counsel for situation-specific guidance. 


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