Domestic Violence in the Workplace

Author: Laura Morrison

Content warning: violence.

Domestic violence is workplace violence. Being prepared to handle domestic violence in the workplace is an important aspect of risk management for your company.

When we hear the term “domestic violence”, we most often think of violent and abusive behaviour that happens behind closed doors. It’s easy to label this as a personal problem – certainly not something that needs to be addressed at work. However, domestic violence often extends beyond the home and has consequences for individuals in a workplace. Domestic violence becomes workplace violence as soon as it occurs at work and often threatens not only the victim, but also his/her/their co-workers, supervisors, and even clients.

Be aware of the warning signs.

It is important to be on the lookout for behaviour that may indicate a situation of domestic violence. Below are some examples of potentially problematic behaviours you may see exhibited among your co-workers or employees.

Behaviours a victim may display:

  • Try to cover bruises
  • Appear sad, lonely, withdrawn, or afraid
  • Trouble concentrating on tasks
  • Apologize for their partner’s behaviour
  • Make last-minute excuses/cancellations
  • Miss work frequently

Behaviours an abuser may display:

  • Repeatedly phoning or e-mailing
  • Stalking/watching
  • Showing up at the workplace
  • Pestering co-workers with questions about the victim
  • Verbally abusing the victim or co-workers
  • Displaying jealous and controlling behaviours
  • Destroying the employee’s or company’s property

What does it mean for your business?

1. Reduced employee productivity and/or increased absenteeism.

Domestic violence can impact your company in a variety of ways. The first thing you may notice is reduced employee productivity and increased absenteeism. A victim of domestic violence may regularly arrive late for work, miss deadlines, or appear absent-minded. Because power and control are central components of domestic violence, an abuser may actively try to keep a victim from going to work, having access to transportation, or doing work at home

2. Replacement, recruitment, and training costs when victims are injured or dismissed for poor performance.

Retaining quality employees is a top priority for businesses. Hiring and training takes time and money – two things that are constantly in short supply. On the surface, an employee who is experiencing domestic violence may appear disengaged from work and subsequently be let go. It is easier, more helpful, and more cost effective to support employees through a domestic violence situation.

3. Potential harm to employees, co-workers and/or clients.

Maintaining a safe workplace free of harassment and violence is your responsibility as an employer. Unfortunately, as mentioned previously, domestic violence is very rarely confined to the home. Abusers will very often target their victim while at work, putting other employees at risk of injury or trauma.

4. Health expenses and liability costs if anyone in the workplace is harmed.

If the victim, other employees and/or clients do sustain injury or trauma, your workplace will be implicated – just as it is with any other type of workplace incident. For this reason, it is best to have policies and procedures in place well in advance of needing to implement them.

Domestic Violence in the Workplace: Remote Work

All of this becomes much more complex when you take into consideration that so many of us are working from home. Domestic violence can increase, which in turn increases its likelihood of impacting your company or organization. 

Working from home undoubtedly means that some of the warning signs discussed above will be harder to identify. As a result, it’s important to maintain close contact with your employees while they work from home – not just in regards to the work they are doing, but also in how their home offices are set up, what home supports they have, if they are regularly seeing family members or friends, and how they appear to be acting and/or speaking during virtual meetings.

Placing an increased emphasis on employee health and wellbeing during a time when you are less likely to be able to identify the challenges they may be facing is vital to overall company success. Carving out time to discuss particular issues such as domestic violence – highlighting policies and procedures, making employees aware of local community resources, and spotlighting how you can assist employees in crisis – can make an immeasurable impact. 

Regardless of whether your company is largely working from home or working in an office, employees experiencing violence should have a clear pathway for assistance from their employers. 

What can you do?

First and foremost, it’s important to have a clearly stated policy on domestic violence as it relates to your workplace. This includes policies about paid time off, extended leaves of absence, and workplace relocation for employees who may be experiencing violence. There should be employer procedures for handling an incident (or potential incident) with emphasis on disclosing information on a “need to know” basis. This works to protect confidentiality while ensuring worker safety. Additionally, it is important that your employees are well aware of these policies and procedures so that they know what support is available and how they can ask for it. 

Regular company-wide training and/or education programs about domestic violence are necessary to foster a community that can adequately respond to a situation if it arises.

Lastly, managerial or supervisory staff should be trained in how to assist employees in developing a personal safety plan if they are experiencing violence. It’s very possible that going to work, having workplace relationships, and earning a personal income are the only means through which someone experiencing domestic violence has a “way out”. Because of this, co-workers, supervisors, and employers can play a vital role in distributing the cycle of domestic abuse not only among those in their company, but also in the greater community.

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