Q. I recently learned that October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month; this made me think what impact domestic partner violence could potentially have at my workplace. Can you give me some pointers on what steps and precautions I might take to help keep our employees safe and secure around this issue?
A. First, I applaud you on your desire to be proactive in addressing this issue. Many people feel domestic violence is someone else's problem. However, problems associated with domestic partner violence frequently spill over into the workplace, either in the form of the abusive partner overtly harassing their victim or by affecting the well being or morale of other employees. There is also the adverse effect on the safety of the workplace, which is priceless. As well, the company’s bottom line can be impacted; according to the CDC this can result industry-wide in more than $5.8 billion each year in lost productivity ($1.8 billion), medical and mental health care ($4.1 billion).
For the purpose of this response to your question, I will refer to the victims of domestic violence in the feminine gender - one in four women are abused (conversely, one in seven men are abused) according to the National Domestic Violence Hotline. The issue for businesses is what happens at home does not always stay at home. The violence and abuse frequently overflows into the workplace. For many battered women work is considered the only “safe place” she has. If she leaves the relationship, the workplace is the most likely place to find her and in many cases is the one place that is consistently where the abuser knows she will be. It is important to foster a culture where employees who are in abusive relationships know that they can go to a trusted individual such as a supervisor, manager, security or human resources professional and privately disclose their situation without fear of retaliation or breach of confidentiality so the necessary precautions can be put into place.
The Corporate Alliance to End Partner Violence (CAEPV) reported that sixty-four percent of victims of domestic violence indicated that their ability to work was affected as a result of the abuse. Among key causes for their decline in productivity, victims noted distraction (57%); fear of discovery (45%); harassment by intimate partner at work (either by phone or in person) (40%); fear of intimate partner's unexpected visits (34%); inability to complete assignments on time (24%); and job loss (21%).
Intimate partner violence in the workplace impacts productivity and employee morale in several ways. The survivor is often late or absent and may not be allowed to stay a minute late to work on projects because she has a set amount of time to get home or is being picked up by her abuser. Aside from the frequent phone calls she may be getting at work, coworkers frequently complain about having to cover for the abused employee. A University of Arkansas study, The Effects and Costs of Intimate Partner Violence for Work Organizations published in the Journal of Interpersonal Violence, found that women who had recently been victims of domestic violence were absent or tardy twenty-six percent more often those who were not. Coworkers often are resentful toward the victim because they feel obligated to cover for them by doing their work. Additionally, many are concerned for their safety.
According to the CAEPV nearly two in three corporate executives (63%) say that domestic violence is a major problem in our society and 55% cite its harmful impact on productivity in their companies. Unfortunately, a large number of companies do not think domestic violence is any of their business.
So, what can you do? Employers should develop a specific policy to address issues associated with intimate partner violence, or at the least include it as a part of the overall workplace violence prevention policy. Train supervisors and managers what to look for and how to approach an employee who may be affected.
Establish a multi-disciplinary team (this may be the same as the workplace violence response team) that consists of HR, Security, Legal and Employee Assistance Program (EAP) if you have one. You may want to include other disciplines depending on the culture of your organization. Have a plan for all possible scenarios, e.g., the abuser is calling and harassing an employee at work. Also plan for the ultimate scenario where the abuser may be on site, possibly with a weapon. Develop a relationship with your local law enforcement. They have a wealth of knowledge and information to share along the lines of safety precautions and/or shelter in place recommendations that can help to keep your workplace safe in the event of an incident.
• Gather information from the employee on the abuser
• Provide security precautions to victim, e.g., vary routine, make support network aware of whereabouts; change phone greeting
• Reiterate access control procedures (e.g., no "piggybacking")
• Provide a photo of the abuser to the gatekeeper
• Obtain a description of his automobile and the license plate number
• Determine if there is a protective order in place and, if so, is the abuser likely to disregard it?
• Determine if the abuser owns a weapon and the likelihood of using it
Human Resources can consider the following for the abused employee:
• Alternate work hours and/or location
• Change work location/phone number
• Provide parking near the building
• Telecommunications monitor incoming phone calls
• Time off for court dates
Legal can assist with corporate restraining orders, no trespass notification and other legal issues.
The National Domestic Violence Hotline 800-799-SAFE (7233) is a national resource that can direct you to local resources that are trained to provide information on helping victims develop a safety plan before leaving and navigating the court system. Leaving an abuser is a process, not an event. The chance of being severely hurt or killed increases by 75% once the survivor leaves her abuser.
Another resource, Telling Amy’s Story, is a documentary funded by The Verizon Foundation to raise awareness and train others to detect and help victims of domestic violence.
Answer provided by Rosalind W. Jackson, Security Executive Council staff member who has over 16 years of experience in workplace violence intervention and prevention strategies.