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When is Domestic Violence a Fireable Offense?

When is Domestic Violence a Fireable Offense?


I’m the chair of the board for a high-profile nonprofit organization. Our executive director (ED) is a task-oriented, “take no prisoners” Domestic violenceindividual. In the last year, he’s managed to tick off many board members, and we’ve had a high level of staff turnover.

I like our ED because he gets results. The employees who left needed to go, and our ED had straightened out many of our organization’s funding problems. He’s given our board the first accurate financial statements we’ve received. The other board members, almost all women, like the results the ED produces but accuse him of “caveman” methods.

Recently, one of the more strident board members did a background check on the ED and discovered his most recent girlfriend and his ex-wife both accused him of domestic violence. She has called an emergency board session, as is her right in the bylaws, and insists we deal with this. She’s furious he didn’t tell us about his record when we interviewed him and thinks we should fire him.

I’m not convinced this personal matter is a firing offense and am uncomfortable with it coming up for board discussion. I’ve recommended the executive committee deal with this issue; however, she wants the full board to address it. What HR rules apply here?


In the wake of the NFL Ray Rice scandal, many employers are asking your question -- what do boards and organizational leaders need to do when learning their managers or employees have been charged with domestic violence?

You describe this as a personal, outside the workplace, matter. You forget that domestic violence doesn’t stay home; it walks into the workplace. Delia Gonzalez’s estranged ex-husband shot Gonzalez and her coworker to death in August 2014 outside the furniture plant where they worked. In July, Sheena Henderson’s husband, after telling his co-workers he was going to kill his wife, killed her in the Rockwood Cancer Clinic where she worked.

Do you really know what’s happening in your workplace? What does “take no prisoners” and your turnover really mean? When you say the exiting employees needed to go, what did you base that on? If it was only based on what your ED said, you may have received slanted information.

Here’s what you and your board need to consider: There’s a big difference between being charged and being convicted. Don’t fire anyone based on accusations unless you have hard evidence, or you risk a potential wrongful termination lawsuit.

At your board meeting, go into executive session to create a level of confidentiality for your discussion. You might ask an employment attorney to attend the meeting. Your ED also has the right to know his off-duty life has been questioned.

Next, can you directly tie your ED’s past to a specific workplace risk? If your ED worked in your organization in another capacity and did a great job, that might prove difficult. Because he’s the ED, however, you need to consider whether keeping him despite his past erodes your organization’s culture. Your ED serves as the face of your organization and a role model for your employees. You want your employees to look up to and respect him.

Regardless of your appreciation of your ED’s results, you need to deal with this issue, as do many employers. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one in every four women and one in every 10 men will experience domestic violence in their lifetime. Employers need policies that address off-duty conduct and the safety concerns that arise related to domestic violence. An employee affected by domestic violence needs to know what their organization can and will do to keep them secure. Those who work alongside someone with violent behaviors need to know their employer takes their concerns seriously.

Finally, does your ED have the right leadership skill set? If not, is he trainable for the interpersonal skills he needs to effectively lead an organization? Effective leaders have integrity and hold the interests of their organization and employees as a priority. This engenders trust and a willingness to invest from employees. “Take no prisoners” leaders often produce great short-term results but the collateral damage they create can destroy internal morale and cause many valued employees to quit on their watch. A 360 review or CEO evaluation that allows both board and staff members to assess your ED’s skills may give your board a handle on what’s actually going on under the radar.

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Lynne Curry, Ph.D., SPHR and owner of the Alaska-based management consulting firm, The Growth Company Inc. consults with companies and individuals to create real solutions to real workplace challenges. Their services include HR On-call (a-la-carte HR), investigations, mediation, management/employee training, executive coaching, 360/employee reviews and organizational strategy services. You can reach Lynne @, via her workplace 911/411 blog, or @lynnecurry10 on twitter.

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