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Domestic Violence: The Unwanted Workplace Visitor

Chances are you employ someone who is being abused. Is that any of your business? When domestic violence enters your workplace, the safety and security of your employees is threatened.

If not handled correctly, it can not only directly endanger employees and visitors, but could also result in financial loss, damage to your company’s reputation and hinder future recruiting efforts. 

According to government statistics:

  • As many as 1 in 4 women have experienced domestic violence at some time in their lives.
  • Nearly 3 out of 4 Americans know someone who has been subjected to domestic violence.
  • Young women in their 20s are at greatest risk.
  • Although 85 percent of domestic violence victims are women, men may also be victims of partner abuse.
  • People of all races are about equally vulnerable to domestic violence.
  • Separated and divorced women and men are at greater risk of abuse.
  • Domestic violence affects people regardless of income.
  • Intimate partner violence accounts for as much as 20 percent of all violent crime against women.
  • Several million people call domestic violence hotlines every year.
  • In some cases domestic violence leads to homicide.

Most alarming for employers is the fact that some research has shown that:

  • There are as many as 40,000 documented incidents of on-the-job violence in which the victims knew their attackers intimately.
  • It’s been estimated that businesses lose millions of dollars annually because of the consequences of domestic violence.
  • More than 70 percent of human resources and security personnel surveyed by the American Bar Association’s Commission on Domestic Violence reported an incident of domestic violence occurring in their workplace.

Toss Away the Stereotypes

It is important to understand that domestic violence is not exclusively directed at women. Men can also be victims. In a 2010 study (pdf) conducted by the CDC’s National Center for Injury Prevention and Control (NCIPC), it was found that 45.3% of the victims of severe, physical domestic violence are men.

According to DomesticViolenceStatistics.org, “Men are largely silent on the issue because of the perception that men are physically stronger and should be able to subdue a female attacker easily. Those men who do report physical violence are more likely to be ridiculed–both by law enforcement and by the public–than women are. More money is spent on women’s programs, and more crusades are launched on behalf of women who are victims of domestic violence despite the fact that men are almost equally or in some cases more likely to be victims of both physical and psychological abuse.”

How Domestic Violence Affects the Workplace

Aside from safety issues for victims, there are other reasons to be concerned about domestic violence entering the workplace.

  • A violent incident at work could escalate to the point where not only the intended victim but also co-workers might be endangered.
  • Abusers often disrupt the workplace by delivering threats by phone, e-mail, or fax, making it difficult for employees to perform job-related duties.
  • Women who are abused at home may have higher rates of depression and absenteeism, exhibit poor job performance, have higher healthcare costs, and also have substance abuse problems.
  • Domestic violence acted out in the workplace could also result in vandalism and property damage.

If you’re still not convinced that employers should get involved in what is essentially a personal issue, consider the legal implications. OSHA and state laws require employers to provide a safe workplace for all employees. Some states also have initiatives that include antistalking and domestic violence laws, which may include workplace issues.

In addition, if you are put on notice that domestic violence exists and the threats are affecting the employee at work, you must act on that knowledge or your company could face costly liability should an incident occur on your premises.

Furthermore, family and medical leave laws may require you to grant leave to employees who are coping with domestic violence.

Signs of Domestic Violence

According to the Family Violence Prevention Fund, supervisors are frequently among the first people in the workplace to become aware that an employee is the victim of domestic violence.

Train your supervisors to look for employees who:

  • Have unexplained bruises or bruises that don’t seem to fit professed injuries
  • Wear inappropriate clothing that may be covering up injuries
  • Seem distracted at work
  • Have a high rate of absenteeism
  • Appear upset, anxious, or depressed
  • Receive repeated upsetting phone calls at work

Supervisors who notice any of these signs should:

  • Talk to the employee privately, tell the employee what they’ve noticed, and express concern about possible abuse
  • Be supportive and refer the employee to available company or community support
  • Report the situation to you and security personnel (otherwise keeping the information confidential)

Tomorrow’s post will provide tips on what you can do to safeguard your employees against workplace domestic violence incidents.

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