Many employers consider domestic violence to be a personal or police matter, and one that the company should stay out of.
But what do you do when it becomes a workplace issue?
According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, on average, “nearly 20 people per minute are physically abused by an intimate partner in the United States.” Annually, this amounts to more than 10 million women and men. Chances are at some point, an employer will have an employee who is affected by, or a direct victim of, domestic violence.
Carrie had changed over the past several months. Once a dependable employee, she had started calling in sick at least once a week. On the days she did come to work, she seemed distracted and tense and some days appeared to have not slept. She left her desk frequently to take phone calls and would come back visibly upset. The manager had noticed this behavior but, at a loss, had to write her up for a large error she had made and asked if anything was wrong. Carrie insisted that she was fine and would do better in the future.
What is domestic violence?
Domestic violence is violence or other abuse that occurs within a domestic setting relationship and can vary in severity and type. Signs of domestic violence are not always physically evident, though they can be. A domestic violence victim may be dealing daily with intimidation, coercion, degrading language, physical violence and/or threats of violence or loss of control over his or her life as an independent adult. They may fear for the lives of themselves or their children.
What should employers do to be prepared for these situations?
- Develop a plan. Work with legal or risk management resources to develop Standard Operating Procedures that will address safety protocols in such situations that violence follows an employee to work, the general approach, and reporting hierarchy.
- Publish a policy. All employees should be made to feel comfortable speaking to management regarding a domestic violence situation. The policy should outline who they can speak with, if they have access to an EAP, and how they should go about requesting leave or another accommodation.
- Consider providing training to managers and supervisors on recognizing signs of domestic violence. Training – in combination with a well-written policy and plan – can help them deal properly and consistently with issues that arise.
- Be supportive, but not invasive or critical. Employees may or may not want to talk about their situation. If they do, ensure them that you will only share information with those who need to know. The goal is to make them feel like the workplace is a safe one, with no judgement.
- Be aware of available resources and state laws. Some states have protected leaves or require accommodation for employees experiencing domestic violence or stalking and/or related legal appearances. If you suspect one of your employees is experiencing domestic violence, make sure they have information about your EAP (Employee Assistance Program), local shelters, domestic violence hotlines and any state or local leave rights that they may have.
- Don’t try to fix it. Resist the urge to counsel or give advice. Offer flexibility for the employee to deal with the issue and the peace of mind to speak with their company about their situation if they choose to.
- Discourage gossip. Treat these issues as you would any private employee matter. Information sharing should be on a need-to-know basis only.
Being prepared for a situation before one arises can help a company react appropriately so employees who are experiencing domestic violence can feel supported when seeking help or asking for leave.
This article does not constitute legal advice and there are subtle variations in employment law as it pertains to this topic, depending on where your business operates. It is strongly suggested that you seek consultation or legal counsel before making decisions about policies.