As a manager or supervisor, you may feel uncomfortable confronting an employee about abuse they may be experiencing at home. Yet "family problems" often follow employees to work. Abusers may pose a threat to the safety of co-workers as well as the victim.
The impact of domestic violence on the workplace may also include:
- Lower productivity
- Increased healthcare costs
- Greater absenteeism
- Higher employee turnover
According to the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), victims of domestic violence often don't tell their supervisors or HR professionals that they are being abused out of fear or shame.
If an employee is being abused she (or possibly he) may:
- Wear long sleeves or sunglasses at inappropriate times to conceal injuries
- Startle easily
- Arrive early or late to work
- Appear fatigued
- Exhibit fear, anxiety or depression
- Have unexplained injuries
- Show a decrease in productivity
- Take more unplanned time off
What's Your Role?
You are not a social worker or psychiatrist but you do have resources you can offer to an employee who appears to be in danger at home—and there are steps you may need to take to protect yourself and the other employees in your organization.
First and foremost, encourage the employee to take advantage of your organization's Employee Assistance Program. Simply call VITAL WorkLife at 1.800.383.1908 and hand the phone to the employee.
"We can help the employee understand what's going on at home and formulate a plan for dealing with whatever issues he or she is facing," says Deb Wood, senior consultant for VITAL WorkLife.
Here are worksite accommodations you and the employee should consider for everyone's safety:
- Ask the employee what changes in the work environment would make her or him feel safer, such as providing priority parking and escorts from the parking area.
- Change the employee's office phone number, and remove the employee's name from automated contact lists. Install panic buttons for the employee and receptionist.
- Place plants or partitions around the employee's work area to serve as barricades to prevent the abuser from walking directly up to the employee.
- Save any threatening messages received at the workplace for future legal action. Provide time off or flexible work hours for counseling and court appearances.
- Ask the employee to obtain a restraining order that includes the workplace, and keep a copy on hand.
"If the employee refuses to contact police or to cooperate with your security plan, you still have a responsibility to protect the employee and other co-workers on the premises," notes Wood. "Your HR department will know or can consult with us about next steps."
Helpful Online Resources
The VITAL WorkLife website offers helpful tools and information designed to help managers and supervisors recognize and manage domestic violence issues in the workplace:
- Understanding Intimate Partner Violence
- What is Domestic and Intimate Partner Violence?
- Court Orders of Protection for Victims of Domestic Violence
- Getting Help for Domestic and Intimate Partner Violence
- Dating Abuse Fact Sheet
- To find these articles, go to VITALWorkLife.com, click on member login and enter your user name and password.
- On the page that comes up, in the left hand column, click on the "Your Work & Life Resources" button.
- In the shaded area at the top of the screen, click on the pull down menu that says "Balancing," pull down to "Relationships" and explore the articles in the category "Abusive."
Domestic Violence: A Case Study
An HR manager called VITAL WorkLife with concerns about a formerly responsible, friendly and productive employee whose behaviors had dramatically changed. The employee was not only less efficient but was also isolating herself.
When the HR manager asked her how she was, the employee broke down and started crying. The HR manager brought her into her office, asked if she could call the EAP and then put the employee on the phone.
VITAL WorkLife did a brief interview and set her up with an appointment for face-to-face counseling that same day. During the session, the employee admitted that she had a new boyfriend who was abusive—but had been too ashamed to admit it. VITAL WorkLife was able to help her develop a plan for removing herself from the situation.
Pathways to Well Being call VITAL WorkLife at 800.383.1908 or access resources through your VITAL WorkLife App