When employees experience domestic violence
When employees experience domestic violence, it’s unlikely they’ll take their personal issue to HR, or confide in their supervisors. Instead, you may suspect an employee is dealing with abuse if you notice unexplained injuries—or if you notice efforts to conceal them, such as makeup covering unexplained bruises, wearing sunglasses when not needed, or choosing turtlenecks or long sleeves in summer.
Not all injuries are physical, however, because domestic violence is motivated by exercising control over the victim–and that can be accomplished by manipulation, lies, the mere fear of violence, or psychological abuse and coersion. Instead, your employee could be afraid of a stalker who feels entitled to contact or affections. Or an ex might be creating falsehoods to try to get the employee evicted or fired to try to force them to come back. Your employee could be facing threats to take away custody or visitation of children in revenge for leaving, or the employee might be dealing with other threats.
For these reasons, you may not see physical injuries at all, and you probably won’t know for sure if abuse is happening unless your employee feels especially safe with colleagues or supervisors. You may observe signs of stress such as fatigue, anxiety, or depression. There may be times where an employee in an abusive situation arrives early or stays late, trying to avoid the abuse at home—or arrives late and leaves early in order to try to appease an abuser. An employee could go from happy-go-lucky to reserved, or could seem more frequently irritable or sad.
To provide support to employees in this situation, avoid trying to pressure the employee confirm the abuse. Many people feel shame and embarrassment about being abused. Some feel they’re to blame; some may not even recognize what they’re experiencing as abuse. Others fear reprisals if they seek help.
Instead, employers should help abuse victims in other ways. In particular, managers and supervisors should review company policies to assure they are friendly to people experiencing domestic abuse. One of the most frequent reasons people stay in an abusive relationship is that they fear losing financial stability. Policies assuring their job is secure even while facing the many challenges involved in leaving an abusive relationship–including needing time off for court appearances–may save a life.
Supporting Employees Experiencing Domestic Violence
Employment policies should be supportive of employees experiencing domestic violence. Such policies could include the following considerations:
- Leave policies should be designed to allow the employee to use the legal system to deal with the abuse. For example, paid time off should be provided when testifying as a victim or a witness.
- An employee assistance program should include resources for domestic violence victims, such as contact information for local domestic violence shelters, and assistance in applying for a protective order that also covers the workplace. Employees may not be able to safely look for this information at home.
- Workplace safety should be a priority: it can include things like lights and/or security cameras in parking areas, security guards, panic buttons, and more.
- Employees should be allowed to protect their privacy by changing their office phone numbers, or removing their names from directories or company contact lists.
- Evidence of abuse should be preserved by an employer saving any threatening messages that come to the workplace in case they can help in legal actions, such as protective orders.
- Employers should provide workplace security plans, so everyone knows what to do in case a situation arises with the abuser.
Note that if employees express fear reporting their abuse police, or are worried about protecting themselves with other aspects of a security plan (such as being afraid of getting caught attending a DV training), employers still have a responsibility to provide a safe workplace. People experiencing abuse are trying to make the safest decisions for themselves and their families. If you’re an employer, reaching out to offer alternatives or discover what an employee feels is safest for them can be helpful.
According to a letter of interpretation provided by the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration Under general duty clause of the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Act, employers are required to take “feasible steps to minimize risks” in workplaces where “the risk of violence and significant personal injury are significant enough to be ‘recognized hazards.’”
In addition to supporting compassionate policies at the workplace, you can support public policy changes that are friendly to people experiencing domestic violence. (View a list of laws providing employment rights for employees experiencing domestic violence to get an overview of rights provided throughout the country.)
For Labor Day and every day–and from workplace to industry to nationwide–we can honor working people with safety.