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What do you tell your boss when you're leaving your abuser?

(MoneyWatch) Dear Evil HR Lady,

I will be leaving an abusive relationship very soon. My partner has communicated with me on my business email address and I expect when I leave he will bombard my company email address with emails. They may be threatening, he may send pornography. I don't know.

I may also have to get an order of protection that would include my work address.

What are my obligations with regards to notifying HR about these potential issues? Do you know of any protections in place for me as a victim? I have an advocate with a local woman's shelter but she wasn't able to comment on my work situation except to advise me to confide in a manager I can trust, which I have.

I'm very frightened on every level and the thought of having potential problems at work because of this adds to my stress. Any input would be appreciated.

First, I wish you the best of luck as you make this big move. My first advice is to listen to the advocate at your local women's shelter. She'll be far more familiar with procedures, protections and safety protocols than I will be. Even laws that provide protections for people in your situation can vary from state to state and even city to city. Therefore, this answer will deal in generalities only, and not specifics.

What protections are you entitled to? Some states require that your employer allow you time off to deal with your situation. How many and with what notice varies from state to state. However, it is possible that domestic abuse can fall under the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) provided that there is either qualifying physical or mental trauma. FMLA leave is unpaid (although most companies allow you to use vacation and if you have disability insurance it may fall under that), but does hold your job for you, if you qualify. You have to have worked for your employer (which must have at least 50 employees in your area)  for more than a year and have worked more than 1,250 hours in the past year and your doctor must certify that your situation qualifies. It may be worth making an appointment with your physician. Your HR department should have the paperwork on hand if the company is subject to FMLA.

Your company may or may or may not have a workplace domestic violence policy in place. If that is the case, you need to follow it. It may read somewhat like this sample domestic violence policy from These plans can include provisions such as a requirement for you to report that you've filed for a restraining order or that if you are being threatened the company will give you added protections, even for things like designated parking close to the building.

Because you plan to get a protection order that would include your workplace, you will need to talk to your boss (which you've done) and, based on your conversation, most likely human resources. I recommend doing this sooner rather than later. For instance, you said he may send threatening emails or porn. If you wait until that happens to report it, it may be more difficult to convince them that you aren't just reacting to getting caught with porn on your computer. Yes, we can see that it comes from the outside but HR people have heard every porn excuse in the book.

Your manager and HR will be inclined to keep all of this confidential, but they may need to let other people know. For instance, depending on what the set up of your building is, they may ask you to provide a photograph of your partner for the person who sits at the front desk. They may need to tell IT to get special filters or blocks placed on your email address. They may also help you get a new email address so that anything from your partner bounces, or simply goes into an unchecked email box. (This, may, actually, may be something you ask for. It is easy enough for IT to assign you a new email address and easy for someone other than you to monitor the old one. They forward the relevant work material to you, save the threatening emails as evidence and you aren't troubled by seeing it pop up.)

Figure out what help you might need. Your advocate at the women's shelter can help you with this. For instance, do you need time off? A flexible schedule so that your arrival and departure times vary? Someone to walk you to your car? A transfer to a different location? Your name removed from the company directory? Assistance from your Employee Assistance Program (EAP)? Do you need help arranging child care? Do you need to telecommute from an undisclosed location for a while?

What about your paycheck? Is it being directly deposited into an account shared with your partner? Do you need payroll to change that?

I don't know what you need and neither does your company. Most companies should be willing to work with you, so think about what you need and ask your manager/HR.

And while your focus needs to be on getting and staying safe, keep in mind that your company needs you to do a job. If both are not possible, don't just stop showing up. Ask for a leave of absence. This is a far better outcome than what will happen if you quit. Don't let your embarrassment about the situation prevent you from asking for help. Most people will want to help you, and chances are your company will do what it takes to get you safe.

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