When Domestic Violence Comes to Work
“Domestic violence is absolutely a workplace issue. When a victim of domestic violence leaves their abuser, where is the one place the abuser knows the victim will be every day? Work.” Cambridge (MA) Domestic Violence Advocate
October is Domestic Violence Month and the occasion presents an opportunity for organizations to review their preparedness to manage these high risk situations. Of all the employee personal issues that managers and HR professionals are called upon to address none is more complicated and stressful than domestic violence. Because employers often do not see episodes of violence happening they may not grasp that their employees are at risk. Given the fact that 75% of domestic violence victims face harassment from intimate partners while at work, failing to prepare could turn out to be a costly mistake.
5 Guidelines For Managers
1. To reduce risk in these potentially dangerous situations, managers and HR professionals should avoid becoming involved in counseling the employee or providing personal logistical support (e.g. offering your home as a shelter, taking responsibility for making safety checks at the employee’s home, making personal loans etc.)
2. Before approaching an employee with concerns that they may be in a domestic violence situation think carefully about who would be the best person(s) to have this conversation and what should and should not be discussed.
3. If the employee tells you that she (or he) is in an abusive relationship:
a. Communicate your concerns for the safety of the employee and for the employee’s children if there are any.
b. Tell the employee that the Employee Assistance Program (EAP) can provide free and confidential assistance with counseling and safety planning.
c. If the employee chooses not to use the EAP (or if your organization does not have an EAP) refer her/him to other available community resources*
4. Managers should not deal with these volatile problems alone and should seek confidential consultation with:
a. EAP staff about counseling and community resources
b. Security staff about workplace safety issues
c. HR staff regarding time off, leaves, performance issues etc.
5. Keep the focus on what the workplace can do to help
a. Ask the employee if any changes could be made at work to make them feel safer (e.g. providing a photo of abuser to company security, changing work location)
b. Allow employee the opportunity to make private telephone calls or attend appointments during work hours.
c. Respect the employee’s privacy and maintain your relationship as a supervisor, not as a counselor.
The workplace can play a key role in assisting employees struggling with the problem of domestic violence. Victims often fear leaving their abusive partner because of threats that have been made concerning their safety or their children’s safety. Because the abusing partner often controls all the finances as well as phone, social contact and car access (our EAP recently worked with an employee who said she could not safely come to our counseling office because her husband checked her car’s odometer when she left for work and when she returned home) the most opportune time for an abused employee to plan for a safe transition may be during work hours.
Fortunately there are many dedicated community organizations offering assistance to employees who are being victimized. The National Domestic Violence Hotline provides direct counseling and information as well as referrals to local resources:
National Domestic Violence Hotline
Staffed 24/7 by trained counselors who can provide crisis assistance, and information about shelters, legal advocacy, healthcare centers and counseling.
Valuable online resources that offer an opportunity for individuals to self-assess whether they are being abused and explore what resources are available to them for counseling, housing and safety planning.