Employee Terminated Over Safety Concerns Caused By Domestic Violence

Whitney Walker was working for the Nordstrom store at Keystone at the Crossing in Indianapolis when her relationship with her boyfriend turned sour and resulted in Ms. Walker moving out and obtaining a protective order against the boyfriend.  Unfortunately, situations like this play out on a daily basis throughout Indiana and the rest of the country.  But what does this have to do with employment law?

According to the report, Nordstrom required Ms. Walker to sign an agreement requiring her to keep her employer informed of developments in the case and any efforts her boyfriend made to contact her.  Ms. Walker claims she signed the agreement because she wanted to keep her job.  This poses the question of whether Indiana employers can require employees to sign such an agreement in order to keep their job.  The answer is yes.  As at-will employees, workers such as Ms. Walker can be subjected to a wide range of requirements in order to maintain their employment status.  Requirements commonly imposed upon Indiana employees as a condition of continued employment include non-compete agreements, non-solicitation agreements, trade secret agreements, and confidentiality agreements. 

Despite signing the agreement, Ms. Walker was fired several months later.  In explaining the termination, Nordstrom explained that the decision was “extremely difficult” but Ms. Walker’s situation “posed an extreme safety risk” to “her co-workers, and our customers.”  This poses another question – Is this legal?  Again, the answer is yes so long as Nordstrom treats all employees in the same manner.  At-will employees in Indiana can essentially be fired for any reason that isn’t protected by a federal, state, or local law.  There are no laws that prevent employees who are deemed to pose a safety risk to themselves, their co-workers, or their customers from losing their job.  In fact, one could agree employers such as Nordstrom should terminate employees under such circumstances because of the potential liability issues created by continuing to employee an individual who it knows could attract a violent episode within the workplace. 

Ms. Walker’s situation is certainly unfortunate.  She stood up for herself in an unhealthy relationship and sought the protections afforded to her by the legal system.  But that isn’t what caused her to get fired.  What caused her to lose her job was the perceived safety risk created by her ex-boyfriend’s actions toward her.  Given the number of workplace violence situations that have occurred here in Indiana and throughout the country, can one blame Nordstrom for making the “extremely difficult” decision to place the safety of it’s employees and customers above Ms. Walker’s ability to continue her employment?