October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month, and I shouldn’t let it close without acknowledging the impact of domestic violence in the workplace.
Over one million women and over 800,000 men are physically assaulted by an intimate partner annually in the United States. With that many people impacted, you can be sure that some percentage of your workforce has dealt with domestic violence issues in their families.
Managers and Human Resources professionals need to know how to address domestic violence issues when they surface in the workplace. Not only can domestic violence bring its violence into the work site, but the victim might also have performance issues, when she (or he) is injured and cannot do the job, unable to come to work, or emotionally unstable because of the abuse.
The goals in addressing domestic violence should be (1) care and concern for victims of abuse, (2) maintaining the safety of the entire workforce, and (3) improving the productivity of your employees. While you need to have a victim-centered approach to the problem, you also have a duty to the workforce as a whole. In some situations, you might need to raise the issue of domestic violence to protect yourself and others at work.
There are many employment law issues that can arise in domestic violence situations, including questions under Family & Medical Leave Act, Americans with Disabilities Act, and federal and state sex discrimination laws. Consult an employment law attorney if you suspect an employee is a victim of domestic abuse that is causing concern in your workplace.
When I worked in an employee relations capacity at one employer, we had to tell an employee not to come to work to minimize the likelihood of her abusive spouse trying to follow her to work. She was able to get to relatives out of town, but her absence raised questions of pay for the time off and how to code the absence. We agreed to pay her for her absence, and showed it as a personal leave that did not impact her attendance rating.
For another example of a domestic violence situation that spilled over into the workplace, see here.
If you feel you need to explore whether domestic violence is an issue for your employee, questions to start with might include
- Do you feel safe at work?
- Do you feel safe coming to work and going home?
- If you think you need them, do you have any difficulty using the physical and mental health benefits we provide?
These questions start with workplace issues and may permit your employees to engage in discussions of problems in their home lives.
Keep a list of local domestic violence resources available, including phone numbers for hotlines and women’s shelters. Remember that many victims are men, so know which resources provide services for male victims as well. Your state’s domestic violence coalition website will probably have good resources in your area. To find your state’s coalition, click here.
Also, get some materials from these local resources to keep in your Human Resources area so employees can contact these domestic violence services on their own. Employee Assistance Program referral information is also important to have at hand.
Here are some other things you can do to minimize the risk of violence in your workplace:
- Whatever you do, be aware of your own safety and the safety of other employees. Review your workplace security procedures and have a security guard close by. If you don’t have security guards, have another manager or trusted employee within shouting distance who can make an emergency call.
- Where you think there is a serious risk of violence in the workplace, alert local law enforcement and ask them to patrol your premises or stand by while you talk to the employee.
- Make your staff aware that they should not give out last names, addresses, home phone numbers, personal email addresses, and other personal contact information of any employee to anyone other than approved managers.
- Similarly, instruct your staff to talk only to employees about work-related matters. They should not talk to employees’ family members without specific approval from the employee, which should be requested only when absolutely necessary.
Remember, you cannot force employees to use any the EAP or any other domestic violence resources you offer. But it is your duty to take all appropriate measures to reduce the likelihood of domestic violence problems spilling over into the workplace and harming your workforce or reducing your organization’s effectiveness.
When have you had to address a domestic violence issue in your workplace?