Domestic violence affects almost every area of a victim’s life. Victims don’t always speak about it and often they are too afraid to tell their employer, yet it can have significant impacts on the workplace. Domestic violence, or intimate partner violence, does not discriminate. Anyone can be a victim. The abuse can take many forms including verbal, economic, sexual, and emotional. Abusers may use coercion and threats. They may intimidate and isolate their partners. They may withhold money or track their partner’s every move or shame them on social media.
Work may be the only safe place for someone in an abusive relationship, but unfortunately there are also times when the abuse comes to work with the victim. This may show up in the form of harassment or stalking or showing up at the workplace unannounced to check up on the victim. According to the Harvard Business Review, “The WHO estimates that 30% of partnered women worldwide have been victims of IPV and the CDC estimates that about 20% of women in the U.S. have experienced physical violence from an intimate partner, including sexual violence and stalking. Many of these women have jobs, interact with their coworkers, and receive feedback from managers — all while navigating an abusive home life.”
It may also show up as increased absenteeism due to the abuse. According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV), victims of intimate partner violence lose a total of 8.0 million days of paid work each year, and between 21-60% of victims of intimate partner violence lose their jobs due to reasons stemming from the abuse. Sadly, violence is also the leading cause of death for women who die in the workplace, with 42% of those deaths attributed to a family member or domestic partner.
What can be done in the workplace to help someone who may be a victim of IPV?
Based upon OSHA’s General Duty clause which states that employers “shall furnish to each of his employee’s employment and a place of employment which are free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm to his employees.” we know that employers have a responsibility to protect their employees from violence.
As an employer, you are not expected to be the expert, but you can be aware of some of the signs as well as how to respond. These may include obvious injuries or bruises, unusual clothing or excessive make-up to hide bruising, subtle changes in behavior such as being more withdrawn, changes in attendance or workplace productivity/performance, or they may startle more easily.
If you are concerned about an employee, you can respond in a way that shows your support and lets them know that this isn’t their fault and that they are not alone. It may also help to provide reassurance that this will not jeopardize their job. You can provide them with resources, which may include contacting 21 st Century EAP to help navigate the situation. The most important thing to remember when responding is that the abuse is never the victim’s fault.
It is also important to know your workplace policies so that you can protect both the employee and your entire workplace.