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When Domestic Violence Comes to the Workplace: The HR Challenge

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.

By Joe Jarret
October 1, 2014

Jarret octDuring my tenures as both a prosecuting attorney and public sector risk manager, I became increasing alarmed that the societal pariah we call domestic violence often spilled into the workplace. Last year, over one million people reported a violent assault by an intimate partner. It stands to reason that this alarming statistic must be a concern for public and private employers. Consider the following statistics amassed through surveys conducted by the Centers for Disease Control, the Bureau of Labor Statistics and the Family Violence Prevention Fund:

  • 21 percent of full-time employed adults were victims of domestic violence.
  • 44 percent of respondents to a recent survey have personally experienced the impact of domestic violence in the workplace, most frequently because a co-worker was a victim.
  • Over 75 percent of domestic violence perpetrators used workplace resources to express remorse or anger towards, check up on, pressure or threaten their victim.
  • According to one study of female domestic violence victims, 44 percent of respondents were left without transportation when the abuser disabled their car or hid their car keys, inhibiting their ability to attend work.

In a study conducted Roper Starch Worldwide titled “Addressing Domestic Violence: A Corporate Response,” business leaders agreed that domestic violence is a problem that affects their workplaces while 57 percent of senior corporate executives concurred that domestic violence is a major problem in society. Further, one-third of those surveyed opined that domestic violence has a negative impact on corporate bottom lines, while 40 percent reported that they were personally aware of employees and other individuals affected by domestic violence. Finally, sixty-six percent believed that their company’s financial performance would benefit from addressing the issue of domestic violence among their employees.

HR managers, like law enforcement officers have come to the stark realization that domestic violence is not a private matter that only affects its victims. In fact, intimate partner violence:

  • Adversely affects employee health, morale and safety.
  • Decreases productivity.
  • Increases employer health care costs.

So, what’s an HR professional to do? According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV), “21 states have enacted mandatory or suggested workplace policies that require employers to assist victims of domestic violence by granting leave to victims who need to address their situation, the use of prevention programs, and the prohibition of discrimination against an employee for being a victim of domestic violence.” NCADV also reports that over 70 percent of workplaces in the U.S. have no formal program or policy that addresses workplace violence, and only 4 percent of all workplaces train employees on domestic violence and its impact on the workplace.

Because domestic violence endangers the public employer’s most important asset—their employees—employers walk that fine line between employee privacy and employee safety. Consequently, it is vital that HR professionals and other managers and supervisors educate themselves on the warning signs and symptoms of domestic violence such as:

  • Arriving to work late or very early.
  • Unplanned or increased use of earned time or paid time off
  • Decreased productivity
  • Tension around receiving repeated personal phone calls
  • Wearing long sleeves on a hot day or sunglasses inside
  • Difficulty in making decisions alone
  • Difficulty concentrating on tasks
  • Avoiding windows, main entrance of office
  • Repeated discussion of marital or relationship problems
  • Flowers or gifts sent to employee at the workplace for no apparent reason
  • Bruises, chronic headaches, abdominal pains or muscle aches
  • Vague, non-specific medical complaints
  • Sleeping or eating disorders
  • Signs of fear, anxiety or depression
  • Fatigue
  • Intense startle reactions
  • Suicidal or homicidal thoughts
  • Nightmares or flashbacks

Along with appreciating domestic violence signs and symptoms, the Partnership for Prevention suggests that employers do the following:

  1. Educate all employees about domestic violence and how to access help.
  2. Offer resources through a confidential EAP program as well as in employee materials.
  3. Develop a worksite domestic violence policy, including leave policies and security measures.
  4. Collaborating with local domestic violence organizations and law enforcement agencies for education and service referrals.

The Cambridge, Massachusetts Public Health Department also suggests that employers encourage the employee who is a victim of domestic violence to save any threatening e-mail or voice-mail messages as then can serve to provide evidence of violating an existing restraining order or order of protection. Further, that the employer ask the employee to name an emergency contact person in case the employee is missing or unreachable as well as designate a code word or phrase so the employee can alert coworkers to danger. Also, when possible, the employee’s workstation should be located away from public access, stairs and elevators and that the employee be given priority parking near the building with a security escort from the car.

In summary, domestic violence is not a private matter that is committed in a vacuum. Rather, it is a crime that spills into the workplace. As such, today’s public HR manager needs to remain educated as to the causes and effects of this plague that continues to pose very real threat to the health, welfare and safety of all organization personnel.

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The American Society for Public Administration is the largest and most prominent professional association for public administration. It is dedicated to advancing the art, science, teaching and practice of public and non-profit administration.

2 Responses to When Domestic Violence Comes to the Workplace: The HR Challenge

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