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Domestic Violence and UI Benefits: Frequently Asked Questions

Q: My job is affected by domestic violence – could I qualify for UI benefits if I have to quit or if I am fired because of the violence?

A: You could qualify for unemployment benefits if you lost your job or if you had to quit voluntarily or leave your job because of domestic violence.  This applies if you thought that staying in your job would threaten your safety or that of a member of your immediate family. 

The Department of Labor recognizes that domestic violence occurs in many relationships, including:

  • Married and formerly married couples
  • Same-sex couples
  • Couples with children in common
  • Couples who live together or have lived together
  • Dating couples who are or were in an intimate relationship.  
Members of your immediate family include: 

  • Children
  • Parents
  • Grandparents
  • Brothers
  • Sisters

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Q: What is domestic violence?

A: Domestic violence is a pattern of threats and/or physical abuse by one person against a family or household member to establish and maintain power and control.  The abuse can be:

  • Physical
  • Psychological
  • Sexual
  • Economic
  • Emotional
An abuser may:

  • Do things that make you afraid
  • Do things to control you
  • Threaten to hurt you or someone close to you
  • Physically abuse you  
To find out more about domestic violence, visit the NYS Office for the Prevention of Domestic Violence website, “Finding Safety and Support.”   To speak to someone about domestic violence, contact the NYS Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Hotline

Domestic violence may spill over into the workplace.  It can threaten your safety, the safety of a family member, or possibly, your co-workers. You may have quit your job because your abuser:

  • Followed you to your job
  • Called and harassed or threatened you at work
  • Threatened you about your job or kept you from going to work
  • Made contact with co-workers or your boss
  • Did other things that might make your co-workers or boss find out about the abuse
  • Did things that might get you fired

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Q: If I qualify, what benefits could I receive?

A: Unemployment Insurance (UI) is temporary income for eligible workers, who have lost their jobs through no fault of their own.  If you qualify, you can receive UI benefits of up to $420 per week, depending upon the amount of wages you earned in the employment you had in the 15 months prior to filing. 

How long you can collect depends on a number of factors, including the maximum limit set by the federal government.  For instance, in times of high unemployment, the government may extend benefits beyond 26 weeks, and may add other benefits.      

Unless specifically excluded by law, all work that you performed for your employer is used to establish your benefit claim, if you qualify.  This includes:

  • part-time
  • full-time
  • temporary
  • casual

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Q: How do I qualify for benefits?

A: To qualify for UI benefits, you must meet these requirements:

  1. Job loss: You must have lost your job or quit your job because of domestic violence. We may ask you to provide verbal or written proof that continuing to work would threaten your safety or that of a member of your immediate family. To find out more about this proof, go to “What kind of documentation might I need?”

    You may also have a claim for employment discrimination if your employer fired you because of circumstances directly related to being a victim of domestic violence.  To find out more, go to “What can I do if I have been discriminated against by my employer because I am a victim of domestic violence?”

  2. Earnings: You must have earned enough wages during your base period of employment before you filed your claim. The base period is first four of the last five completed calendar quarters prior to the calendar quarter in which your claim begins. To help you figure your base period, see our publication: Unemployment Insurance Information for Claimants: A Handbook for Persons Claiming Benefits under the New York State Unemployment Insurance Law.
  3. Work Readiness: You must be ready, willing, and able to work while you receive benefits.  You must demonstrate this by actively looking for work you can do while you claim benefits. We will ask you to document your work search efforts. If you are not physically or mentally capable of work because of the domestic violence, you may not qualify for or be paid benefits until you show us that you are again able to work and are trying to find a job.*
  4. Waiting Period: You should file your claim in the first week that you have become unemployed. This is important because your first week is an unpaid waiting week, called the “waiting period.”

  5. * If you became disabled because of the domestic violence, you may consider filing a claim for disability.

    * If you cannot work due to domestic violence, you may qualify for public assistance. For more information, visit the NYS Office for Temporary and Disability Assistance website. To find out about the Family Violence Option designed to protect victims of domestic violence who apply for public assistance, visit the Empire Justice Center website.


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Q: How do I apply for benefits?

A: See How to File a Claim for instructions. Because of the one-week waiting period, you should apply for benefits as soon as possible after you lose or leave your job.

  • Services for non-English speakers: If you do not understand English well or if it is not your first language, we offer help in Spanish and other languages. We also offer interpretation services.  Follow the instructions on the voice system.
  • If you are hearing impaired and another person is helping you: call the Telephone Claims Center at 1-888-783-1370.  If you use Telephone Device for the Deaf (TTY/TDD) equipment, first call the relay operator at 1-800-662-1220 and ask the operator to call the Telephone Claims Center at 1-888-783-1370.

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Q: What information do I need to file my claim?

A: See How to File a Claim for instructions.


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Q: What happens after I apply?

A: When we get your application for UI and see that you lost or left your job because of domestic violence, we may need more information about your claim to make a decision.  A claims examiner will contact you by phone to interview you about your last job and your separation from work.  The claims examiner will also ask your employer for information before we make a decision on your application.
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Q: What will the interviewer ask?

A: The claims examiner will ask you questions about your claim and the domestic violence.  If you lost your job, the examiner will try to find out why you think your employer fired you because of the domestic violence.  If you quit your job because the domestic violence made you afraid for your safety or the safety of a family member (like a parent, spouse or domestic partner, child, grandparent, brother or sister), the examiner will ask you questions about that.  They will ask why you were afraid and why you felt you had to quit your job to stay safe. 
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Q: How can I prepare for the interview?

A: You should be prepared to explain exactly how the domestic violence relates to:

  • being fired
  • quitting your job   
Did your employer fire you when you asked for time off to go to court because of the domestic violence? Did you lose your job because your employer felt you weren’t doing your job well anymore?  Were you late to or absent from work due to the abuse?  Did you quit because your abuser harassed you at work? Did you quit because you were afraid for your safety? Did you quit because you felt you had to move when the abuser threatened to hurt your children? You should tell the examiner these details.


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Q: Do I need proof of the domestic violence?

A: The law requires you to provide “reasonable and confidential documentation” of the violence.   Sometimes, we can accept your statement in your UI application that you lost or left your job because of domestic violence. The spoken details you give in your interview are enough.  However, the examiner may ask you for written documentation as evidence of the domestic violence, and you should be prepared to send copies.
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Q: What kind of documents may I need?

A: If you called the police about the domestic violence, you can send the examiner a copy of:

  • The Domestic Incident Report
  • Police report
  • Arrest report   
If you a have an order of protection, you should send a copy to the examiner.  If the abuse was prosecuted, but did not result in an order of protection, ask the prosecutor to write a letter for you.  If you did not call the police or get an order of protection, or you do not have a copy of these things, be prepared to explain why to the examiner.  

You can provide other forms of evidence.  Because of the violence or injuries, did you or a family member ever:

  • Go to the hospital
  • See a doctor
  • Visit a counselor, social worker, or domestic violence advocate
If you did, you can send notes or a letter from any of these people about the violence. 

You may use a letter from a lawyer or a religious leader explaining that you asked them for help in dealing with the violence as evidence for the interview.  You may send a letter from your former employer or a co-worker, or any other records or proof to support your claim.  By law, we keep this documentation confidential.   

If you did not call the police or a domestic violence program for assistance, or you did not get an order of protection, this does not mean that you will not be able to qualify under this provision.


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Q: What will happen if I have no documentation about the domestic violence?

A: You will not lose eligibility for benefits if you have nothing written about the violence – a police report, order of protection, doctor’s note, advocate’s letter.  Just be prepared to explain to the examiner why you do not have any of those things. 
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Q: What other questions will the examiner ask?

A: The examiner may ask questions about your job:

  • Where you worked
  • Who else worked there
  • Was the employer aware of the domestic violence
  • Did your co-workers know about the violence
  • Were you threatened or harassed at work, etc. 
The examiner may also ask if you attempted to keep your job.  If the employer told you that you might lose your job, did you try to perform better? Did you try to manage absences or lateness? Did you ask your employer if you could transfer to another location?  

The examiner may also ask questions about the domestic violence:

  • Where did it occur
  • How many times
  • When did the most recent incident happen
  • If you are separated from the abuser, etc. 
If you quit your job to relocate to get away from the abuser, the examiner may ask:

  • If you have family in the area
  • Whether you used to live with the abuser
  • Where you plan to live
  • Whether the police or advocate told you to move

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Q: What happens after the interview?

A: The examiner will review the details and documents both you and your employer provide, and decide to grant or deny you benefits.  If we approve your claim, you should receive your first benefit payment in three to four weeks.  Then you will get UI benefits weekly, as long as you continue to:

  • meet the requirements 
  • call in or sign in online to claim weekly payments
If we deny your claim, you will receive a “Notice of Determination of Ineligibility or Disqualification” in the mail telling you why.  The notice will also explain:

  • How long the period of denial lasts
  • How you can requalify
  • How to ask for a hearing

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Q: What can I do if you do not approve my application for UI benefits?

A: You may be able to appeal the decision if we deny your claim.  This will require a hearing.  Learn more about the Department of Labor’s hearing process and where you can go for legal assistance.


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Q: What if I must move due to safety concerns (related to domestic violence) while I collect UI benefits?

A: Victims of domestic violence often need to move for safety reasons.  If you have to leave your local job market, you should alert the Telephone Claim Center (TCC) of this change before you move.  They will advise you whether you can continue to collect UI benefits during a temporary or permanent relocation.  If you do not tell the TCC, you could lose your benefits.  
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Q: What can I do about discrimination by my employer because I am a victim of domestic violence?

A: You can file a discrimination claim with the NYS Division of Human Rights if you believe you were:

  • Fired because your employer learned that you are a domestic violence victim or that you have an order of protection or because your abuser is coming to your workplace. (If your abuser violates the order of protection or becomes abusive at your workplace, the employer should call the police as they would for any other misconduct in the workplace.)
  • Discriminated against or treated any differently in any aspect of your employment because you are a victim of domestic violence. If you ask for time off to go to court, to move, or to seek help due to domestic violence and your employer typically allows employees to take time off for personal needs and family emergencies, then they should not deny your request.
  • Denied needed time off for medical or mental health services. Unless time off causes a significant hardship to your employer, they must grant you reasonable time off, and may not terminate you. Your employer may request a note from the medical or mental health service provider (as long as the employer requires ALL employees to provide a note in similar situations that are unrelated to domestic violence).
* It is illegal for an employer to take action against an employee who is a crime victim for taking time off to appear in court as a witness, to consult with a district attorney, or to obtain an order of protection (N.Y. Penal Law § 215.14). This specific right is not enforced by the Division of Human Rights. However, it would be discriminatory under the Human Rights Law to treat a victim of domestic violence any differently than employees who need time off for other reasons. 

* If you live in NYC or Westchester County, there is a local law that provides more protection.  It requires your employer to provide reasonable accommodations under certain circumstances.   For details, go to http://www.legalmomentum.org/


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Q: What are the benefits of filing a claim with the Division of Human Rights?

A: You do not need to hire an attorney to file a claim.  If your claim is successful, you may be entitled to financial reimbursement.  If you have lost your job because of discrimination, you may get your job back.

(It is against the law for an employer to take any action in retaliation against an employee who files a discrimination complaint.)


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Q: How do I file a complaint with the New York State Division of Human Rights (DHR)?

A: See the Division’s brochure, “How to File a Complaint”  

*The New York State Human Rights Law covers employers with four or more employees. You must file a complaint with the Division within one year of the alleged discriminatory act. The law protects domestic violence victims against employment actions taken on or after July 7, 2009. 


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Q: What options do I have to increase safety at work?

A: Here are some steps you can take to protect yourself. 

Order of protection:

Ask for a provision that orders your abuser to stay away from your workplace and to prevent contact there.

If your employer is aware that you are a domestic violence victim, tell them about the order of protection and ask them to help enforce the order. They could provide information about any violation of the order that occurs at work.

Workplace safety plan:

There are steps that you can take to increase your safety. In some cases, you will need to tell your boss about your situation to ask for the changes you need. Because situations differ, it may help to speak with a domestic violence advocate who can help you develop an individual safety plan.

Actions you can take to increase your safety at work:

  • Keep a photo of the abuser and/or a copy of any order of protection in a safe place at work
  • Tell co-workers you trust about your situation
  • Arrange with security or the front desk to ensure your abuser cannot come into your place of work
  • Give copies of your order of protection to security personnel
  • Write up an emergency security response plan, including steps to contact the police
  • Ask for changes that may decrease risk:
  • Temporarily or permanently move to a different desk, secure area or new work site
  • Change your work schedule or shift (vary work hours)
  • Keep your work address or phone number private
  • Keep your home address or phone number private
  • Change your phone number or extension, or route calls through a receptionist
  • Make a plan to deal with phone, fax, e-mail or mail harassment
  • Change your parking space
  • Have an escort when you enter or leave the building
When you work for the same employer as your abuser:
Safety plans must address further concerns if you and your abuser work for the same employer. For example, your employer must assure that your abuser cannot access personnel data.  The company may tell the abuser that there will be consequences for any harassment, abuse, etc., at work.  This could include disciplinary action or termination, where appropriate.

New York City laws
There are laws to protect survivors of domestic violence, sexual assault or stalking who work in New York City.  The law says that your boss must make changes at work so that you can do your job and stay safe. This is called a “reasonable accommodation.”
For details on the NYC law, go to: http://www.legalmomentum.org/


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Q: Should I tell my employer?

A: This depends on your situation.  Do you think your boss can make changes or offer help that would help you feel safer or do better at work?  You are not required to tell your boss that you are a domestic violence victim.  However, certain changes to increase your safety at work would require this.  Also, it is harder to prove discrimination if you have not told your employer that you are a victim.  That makes it hard to determine how and when your employer found out about the violence.
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Q: What are some advantages of telling my employer?

A: When you tell your employer, it allows you to ask for assistance and accommodations at your worksite.  This may help keep the workplace safer for you and your co-workers.  It may help you continue to work at your job. 

Telling might also help explain any performance problems related to the violence or stalking.


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Q: What are some disadvantages to telling my employer?

A: Your employer might pressure you to leave your abuser or to get a protective order.  This may not be the right step for you at this moment.  

Your employer might fire you just because you are a victim of domestic violence. That would be against the law, but enforcing the law may be difficult or take a long time. Keeping a steady paycheck might be more important for your present and future stability.  

Telling might make the situation more public, which may be uncomfortable for you or may affect your safety.    


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Q: How do I decide whether to tell my employer?

A: There is no way to predict how an employer will react.  When an employer has a policy for employees who are victims of domestic violence, this tells you: 

  • Procedures to follow 
  • Protections offered to you
Consider how much support you can expect from your employer.  Workplace policies against:

  • Violence
  • Sexual harassment
  • Discrimination
This might tell you how they will respond.  Another hint may be how flexible your employer usually is about work or personnel issues.     

If there is someone you can talk to who has the power to help you, approach this person for support before you decide.


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Q: Who might be able to help me at work?

A: Decide how comfortable you are with disclosing the domestic violence.  If you can talk about it, you may have resources at work to support and help. Some of these resource people may be required to keep your information confidential.  Clarify this before discussing your situation with:

  • Human resources/personnel staff
  • Employee Assistance Program (EAP) staff
  • Your bargaining representative/union
NYC employees:

To ask for a reasonable accommodation, you must disclose that you are a victim. Even though the NYC law requires employers to keep this information strictly confidential, there is no guarantee that the employer will comply. For more information, go to: http://www.legalmomentum.org/


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Q: Can I get legal assistance or other representation to help me obtain benefits, challenge the amount of weekly benefits, or appeal a denial?

A: The Department of Labor maintains a listing of legal services organizations, private attorneys, and registered representatives that can assist you with an appeal of your UI claim.  Some of these providers charge a fee and some are free (if you qualify).  The Appeal Board does not endorse, recommend or guarantee the work of any person or organization on the list.  

If you have Internet access, you can search LawHelp:  www.lawhelp.org/NY to find an attorney or representative.  This site also offers details on your UI benefit rights and resources.


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Q: What other resources are available to help?

A: Domestic violence service providers:  If you experienced abuse from an intimate partner, please call the 24-Hour NYS Domestic and Sexual Violence Hotline. The hotline provides:

  • Crisis intervention
  • Counseling
  • Referrals to local domestic violence service providers
Call:

  • 800-942-6906 (English)
  • 800-942-6908 (Spanish)
  • 800-818-0656 (English TTY)
  • 800-780-7660 (Spanish TTY) 
You may also view the NYS Coalition Against Domestic Violence to find an approved domestic violence program in your county. 

Other sources of information on domestic violence and the workplace include:

NYS Office for the Prevention of Domestic Violence
518-457-5700
http://www.opdv.state.ny.us/index.html  

Legal Momentum
212-925-6635
http://www.legalmomentum.org/ 

NYS Division of Human Rights
718-741-8400
http://www.dhr.ny.gov/ 

Empire Justice Center
585-454-6500
http://www.empirejustice.org/issue-areas/domestic-violence/


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