Domestic Violence in the Workplace
When employees face traumatic and overwhelming situations such as domestic violence, their work life will inevitably be impacted as well. Historically, employers have viewed domestic violence as a personal issue only rather than a workplace problem, but when employers do address the situation, they can provide real help to victims and reduce the risks associated with domestic violence.
Victims and perpetrators of domestic violence impact the workplace in many ways. In addition to the increased risk for workplace violence, domestic violence often results in decreased productivity and increased absenteeism, stress, health care costs, and turnover rates for victims. Escaping the abuser often involves abruptly leaving the home and the workplace.
There are two primary reasons that domestic violence affects the workplace:
- Domestic violence is about control. The victim’s job represents independence and while the victim is at work, they are not under the abuser’s immediate control.
- The victim is vulnerable at work. Because work hours, parking arrangements, and geographical location are predictable, the abuser knows where and when they can find the employee.
The Abuse Doesn’t Stay at Home
- Women are much more likely than men to be victims of on-the-job intimate partner homicide. Spouses, significant others and exes were responsible for the on-the-job deaths of 321 women and 38 men from 1997-2009 (U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics).
- Between 2003 and 2008, 33% of women killed in the workplace were killed by their abuser (Workplace Homicides Among U.S. Women: The Role of domestic violence, 2012).
- A phone survey of 1,200 American employees found that 44 percent of full-time employed adults personally experienced domestic violence’s effect in their workplaces, and 21 percent identified themselves as victims of domestic violence (Corporate Alliance to End Partner Violence, 2005).
- Between 30,000 and 40,000 incidents of on-the-job violence involve cases in which the victims knew their attackers intimately (U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics, Special Report: Workplace Violence, 1998).
- Almost 75% of all working women surveyed reported being harassed (i.e. stalking, harassing phone calls, unwanted attention) at some point in their careers by current or former boyfriends or husbands (Family Violence Prevention Fund, 1997).
Hidden Losses to the Workplace
- A 2005 study using data from a national telephone survey of 8,000 women found that women experiencing physical domestic violence victimization reported, on average, 7.2 days of work-related lost productivity and 33.9 days in productivity losses associated with household chores, child care, school, volunteer activities, and social/recreational activities (Average Cost Per Person Victimized by an Intimate Partner of the Opposite Gender: a Comparison of Men and Women, 2005).
- Of 130,000 stalking victims surveyed from 2005 to 2006, about one in eight lost time from work because of fear for their safety or because they needed to get a restraining order or testify in court. More than half these victims lost five or more days of work (U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics, 2006).
- 37% of female victims of domestic violence reported feeling the effects of abuse reflected in lateness, missed work, difficulty keeping a job, and difficulty advancing in their careers (EDK National Telephone Poll, 1997).
- Organizations pay a price for victims’ lower productivity rates and higher absenteeism, tardiness, and job loss rates. The company’s medical–related costs, higher employee benefit costs, increased insurance premiums, and increased sick leave expenses are often the consequences of domestic violence (Family Violence Prevention Fund, 1999).
TIPS TO MAKE THE WORKPLACE SAFER (FOR SUPERVISORS AND MANAGERS)
Because domestic violence is so prevalent in our society, it is possible that there is currently someone employed at your organization involved in an abusive relationship.
As a supervisor or manager, it is not acceptable to say, “That’s a personal problem” or “There’s nothing I can do.” Supervisors and managers can help to improve the safety of the work environment for both victims of domestic violence and co-workers who could be at increased risk of becoming a victim of workplace violence.
THINGS TO OBSERVE AND DOCUMENT REGARDING THE EMPLOYEE:
- unusual absences and/or late arrivals
- bruises, or other signs of emotional distress
- changes in work performance
- mood swings or changes in personality
ASSISTANCE AND PREVENTION:
- Contact your Employee Assistance Program (EAP) professional and the Office of Human Resources to discuss concerns and resources, as well as to discover ways to offer support to the employee.
- Know the work-site and community resources.
- Read and understand the policies and procedures regarding workplace and domestic violence.
- Educate the victim and other employees about the workplace violence policy and procedures for reporting incidents of violence.
- Provide security with a photo of the alleged perpetrator, when appropriate.
HOW TO HELP AN EMPLOYEE:
- Discuss safety/security issues with the employee and suggest possible actions (i.e. safety plan, referral to EAP).
- Help the employee document all incidents of harassment and/or stalking that occur in the workplace.
- Encourage the victim to save any threatening email or voice messages. These can be used in the future for legal action and/or evidence or violations of an existing restraining order.
- Offer to change parking arrangements for the victim so that he/she is close to the building entrance.
- Offer to screen phone calls and transfer potentially harassing calls to security.
- Assess the safety of the victim’s workplace, and relocate the victim to another more secure building or area when appropriate.
- Make sure the restraining order includes the workplace, and make sure the workplace has a copy on hand at all times (if applicable).
- Encourage the victim to identify an emergency contact person if the supervisor or manager is unable to contact the victim.
- Use an escort service to walk the victim to and from his/her vehicle.
- Do not ignore the situation. If a workplace intervention is appropriate, either at the employee’s request or as a response to a workplace threat, it is important to listen and respond accordingly. Early intervention can often prevent incidents of workplace violence.
- Ask the victim what additional changes are needed to make the workplace safer and more secure. No one knows the perpetrator better than the victim.