Violence: Domestic: Domestic Violence at Work

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Domestic violence affects the workplace in numerous ways. Domestic violence, when it spills over into the workplace, can lead to increased absenteeism, turnover, higher health care costs and sharply decreased productivity. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that domestic violence costs companies $5.4 billion annually.

Often, victims don’t tell HR or managers that they are being abused. But if an employer suspects that an employee might be the victim of domestic abuse and that the abuser might attempt to harm the employee or others at the workplace, the employer must take steps to protect the workforce. Under the general duty clause of theOccupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA), employers are required to take “feasible steps to minimize risks” in workplaces where “the risk of violence and significant personal injury are significant enough to be ‘recognized hazards,’” according to a U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration letter of interpretation.

ASIS International and SHRM have collaborated to develop a Standard for Workplace Violence Prevention and Intervention. The standard provides an overview of policies, processes and protocols organizations can adopt to identify and prevent threatening behavior and violence affecting the workplace, and to better address and resolve threats and violence that have occurred. The standard contains a section with guidance on dealing with domestic violence that spills over into the workplace.

Managers and supervisors who suspect an employee might be the victim of domestic abuse should look for a pattern of the following behaviors:

  • Absenteeism or lateness, poor concentration and work-related errors or inconsistent work product that is not characteristic of the employee.
  • Injuries, especially repeated injuries, such as bruises, black eyes and broken bones, especially if the employee attempts to conceal the injuries or offers unconvincing explanation for how they occurred.
  • Requests for time off to attend court appearances.
  • Signs of emotional distress, such as unusual quietness and increased isolation from co-workers and unusual or repeated emotional upset during or following contact with the employee’s partner.
  • Suggestions or statements by the employee that a former or current partner is engaging in unwanted contact.
  • An unusual number of e-mails, texts, phone calls, etc. from a current or former partner and reluctance by the employee to converse with the partner or respond to messages.
  • Abrupt change of address by the employee or a reluctance to divulge where the employee resides.
  • Unwelcome visits by the employee’s partner to the workplace, particularly if the visits elicit a strong negative reaction by the employee.

Employers can help victims of domestic violence by taking the following steps:

  • Encourage the use of company employee assistance program or community resources focused on domestic violence. HR professionals should avoid trying to counsel the person.
  • In states that permit employers to obtain restraining orders covering the workplace, evaluate the feasibility of obtaining such an order when threats from an employee’s abusive partner affect the workplace.
  • Limit or bar the abuser’s access to the workplace, such as distributing the abuser’s photograph to security personnel, members of management or the employee’s workgroup.
  • Take additional security steps such as providing an escort to the parking lot, providing a parking space close to the building, offering flexible or varied work hours, removing the employee’s name from the office directory, screening calls and changing the employee’s work e-mail address.

If the employee refuses help or denies that any abuse is going on but the employer still suspects that the employee is being abused and that the abuser might come to the workplace, then the employer still has a responsibility to protect the employee and co-workers on the premises.

Employers should be aware that several states have passed laws protecting the workplace rights of victims of domestic or sexual violence. Before taking any type of action against an employee suspected of being the victim of domestic violence, employers should carefully check the laws in the states where they do business. Even in states that have not passed such laws, employers should establish written policies on leave requests and related issues.

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Source: Society for Human Resource Management

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