Domestic Violence in the Workplace

Domestic violence can reach beyond the home and into the workplace. For instance, an abusive partner may follow their victim to work and look for an opportunity to attack. 

In addition, an employee who has experienced an act of domestic violence may begin missing work. They may not show up at a worksite due to physical injury or issues of mental health. For these reasons, employers and employees need to educate themselves on the best ways to maintain workplace safety and assist victims of domestic violence.

The following is an overview of domestic violence in the workplace. It includes tips on how to protect your employees.

How Domestic Violence Enters the Workplace

The effects of domestic violence can have a negative impact on work productivity. These effects include the physical and emotional strain experienced by victims of domestic abuse. An employer might notice that a victim of domestic abuse has been late or absent from work. They may have missed important meetings or deadlines. The victim may attend work with unexplained injuries or bruises or request sick time frequently.

Domestic violence comes in many forms and normally occurs over a period of time in a relationship. It may include:

  • Assault
  • Threats
  • Intimidation
  • Emotional abuse

Victims may not receive medical attention and may appear to minimize harm. On average, victims of domestic violence will attempt to leave the relationship seven times before they succeed at ending it, according to the National Domestic Violence Hotline. Victims face the greatest physical danger when leaving or immediately after leaving an abuser.

Domestic violence represents a crime focused on power and control in a relationship. The abuser uses violence and other forms of manipulation to keep control of the victim. Therefore, it would be naïve to conclude that an abuser does not know where a victim works. It's also naïve to think that an abuser would not attempt to interrupt the work environment to intimidate, retaliate, or otherwise harm the victim.

Abusers often seek to keep their victims isolated from friends, family members, and the outside world. Therefore, an abuser may well seek to cause the victim to lose their job. This would likely cause the victim to have a greater dependence on the abuser.

In the worst-case scenario, an abuser may enter the victim's workplace and cause physical harm to the victim and co-workers.

Protecting Your Employees From Domestic Violence in the Workplace

To avoid domestic violence from entering the workplace, employers need to raise awareness to domestic violence issues among all their employees. Employers also need to address security issues so that the workplace remains safe.

Below are steps to take to protect your workers from domestic violence in the workplace. Employers must assess their situation to decide the best process to accomplish each step in a reasonable time.

Education

Educate your employees regarding the signs and symptoms of domestic violence. You may want to have a representative from a local victim services agency or other service provider speak to your employees as a group. Topics should include:

  • Intimate partner domestic violence
  • Sexual assault
  • Stalking
  • How these behaviors may lead to workplace violence

At this presentation, you should also provide a list of local resources for domestic violence victims, including, as appropriate:

  • The names and contact information of local counselors
  • The employee assistance program (EAP)
  • Health care treatment providers
  • Family law attorneys
  • Law enforcement agencies
  • Social service organizations
  • Victim services organizations
  • Domestic violence programs
  • Domestic violence shelters

You should also make employees aware that under the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), employees may have the ability to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave for issues of domestic violence. An employee can take FMLA leave when they have a serious health condition caused by domestic violence. This may include an overnight hospital stay or a substantial mental health condition brought about by domestic violence.

Security

An employer should regularly assess security needs at the workplace. How easily can a non-employee enter the building and the offices where employees work? Employers should take steps to increase security as needed around the entrances and exits of the building. Employers should also review the existence or placement of security cameras to make sure they are close to doors and parking areas.

Employers may also consider:

  • Issuing ID badges
  • Adopting a secure method for employees to access the office
  • Addressing hiring of security guards where appropriate

Policies should set security protocols, including advance notice, to key employees when a business customer or non-employee visits the workplace.

Domestic Violence Workplace Policy

Employers should evaluate whether the development of a comprehensive Domestic Violence Workplace Policy would best resolve issues of education and security on an ongoing basis. The development of a Domestic Violence Workplace Policy can occur with other more immediate steps to address education and security, as stated above. Note that a Domestic Violence Workplace Policy may be unique and separate from an otherwise existing workplace violence policy.

Developing an effective Domestic Violence Workplace Policy requires time and careful consideration of several options. First, the employer must assemble a competent team to brainstorm and draft a policy. Usually, this will involve obtaining legal assistance. It usually also includes inviting human resources staff, security personnel, communications specialists, supervisors, and employees to participate.

Drafting a policy unique to the workplace may take time. However, there are model policies that can be located through an internet search. These can provide a good starting point. In a union workplace, the team should also include union or management representatives. These representatives should understand the terms of the collective bargaining agreement. They may need to negotiate modifications to the policy. Once the employer has adopted a policy, staff must reach out and provide ongoing training for all employees.

How To Help an Employee Experiencing Domestic Violence

Aside from the steps outlined above, here are things you should consider once you have made aware that an employee is a victim of domestic violence:

  • Make sure that employee has names and contact information for people that can help them. Make sure they can access this information in a confidential and safe manner. Provide the employee with information on local resources and the National Domestic Violence Hotline, 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) or TTY 1-800-787-3224.
  • Check whether the employee has a protection order or other restraining order that restricts contact from the abuser. If so, make sure a copy of the court order remains in the workplace in the case that law enforcement is contacted.
  • Have the employee designate a code word to alert their coworkers to danger. For example, in an Ohio case, the court noted how an employee had an envelope on her desk that was labeled with an agreed upon code word. Coworkers were aware that if the employee ever called in and asked for the envelope labeled with the code word, they had the authority from the employee to make an immediate referral to law enforcement to check on her welfare and whereabouts.
  • Move that employee's workstation away from first-floor doors or windows to prevent harassment and reduce the risk of harm. Develop a workplace safety plan with the employee detailing what will occur if the abuser either attempts to enter or enters the workplace.
  • Organize a carpool so the employee is not alone on their commute to and from work.
  • Provide a plan for police contact and making a police report for any time the abuser attempts to enter the workplace, engages in stalking behavior of the employee or coworkers, engages in phone or social media harassment of the employee or other coworkers, or violates an order of protection.
  • Be flexible with that employee's leave time under state or federal law, including family and medical leave time (FMLA). Consider the health care needs of the employee and, if there is no undue hardship, make reasonable accommodations to the work schedule and location as needed. Make sure your leave policy provides for the employee to make required court appearances and time to separate from the abusive partner.
  • Consider special accommodations when the employee and the abusive partner both work for the same company.

Have You Lost Your Employment Due To Domestic Violence?

Sometimes an employee loses their job after an act of domestic violence or a series of actions by an abuser. The employee may quit, or the employer may fire the employee, citing the disruption in the work environment. Under state law, the employee may seek unemployment compensation based on the state unemployment insurance program. In New York state, the Department of Labor provides a fact sheet on this issue to assist victims of domestic violence.

Facing Domestic Violence in the Workplace? Get Help From a Lawyer

Domestic violence is typically confined to one's home but can sometimes spill over to other domains, such as the workplace. Getting help is important. If you or someone you know is the victim of domestic violence in the workplace, speak with an experienced family law attorney near you today.

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Can I Solve This on My Own or Do I Need an Attorney?

  • Victims of domestic violence can press charges against their abuser
  • The ability or requirements to press charges varies in each state
  • Contacting a family law attorney or advocacy groups for advice is essential

Some attorneys represent victims of domestic violence. Others defend the rights of those accused of domestic abuse or other related crimes. Many attorneys offer free consultations.

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