Domestic Violence in the Workplace: Five Tips to Keep in Mind

Deb Kirby

40% of women who died as a result of workplace violence in 2016 did so at the hands of domestic partners or relatives.

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Domestic Violence, also known as Intimate Partner Violence (IPV), comes to work. It’s that simple. It follows its victims to their workplace. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 40% of women who died as a result of workplace violence in 2016 did so at the hands of domestic partners or relatives. And it isn’t just women. The CDC reports that one in every four women and one in 10 men will experience IPV in their lifetime.

In short, it’s impossible to address workplace violence prevention effectively without focusing on domestic abuse. Based on guidance we provide our clients every day, here are five considerations to keep in mind.

  1. Indicators of Domestic Abuse Are Not Necessarily Obvious
    Zero-tolerance policies are effective for some kinds of behaviors, like physical assault on a colleague or bringing a weapon into the workplace. But these policies don’t cover the more subtle signals and behaviors that may not violate workplace disciplinary expectations. Leaving this unchecked could result in tragic consequences.

    Warning signs and behaviors of concern suggesting possible domestic violence ̶ or any other form of aggressive behavior ̶ can range from more common, non-physical acts, such as incivility, bullying, gestures, expressions and verbal threats, to targeted violence on the farthest end of the spectrum.
    Concerning behaviors indicating that an employee may be an IPV survivor can include, for example, a decline in social interaction, excessive absenteeism or lateness, frequent home address changes, and sudden or increasing signs of confusion, forgetfulness or distraction.
  2. Domestic Abusers Can “Transfer” Their Anger to Their Partner’s Employer
    Sometimes an abuser views their victim’s job or workplace as their only obstacle to exercising total control over their victim. The at-risk individual’s salary may give them the ability to rent an apartment on their own and move out or away from their attacker. In these cases, abusers can view any of the employer’s executives or other employees – as well as the employer’s property, assets and operations – as “justifiable” targets for violence. Often, it is also the only place an abuser may know for certain that a victim will be present.
  3. Orders of Protection May Signal That a Domestic Situation Could Impact the Workplace
    When an order of protection names a workplace, it is in the best interest of the IPV survivor and employer to be on notice. An abuser may determine that the only way to gain access to a victim who has moved out is at their place of work. It’s very important that employers provide assurance of confidentiality and support for victims. Employers need to develop and implement procedures to document how those reports will be received and managed. Minimally, confidential notification to Human Resources of any protective or restraining orders granted to them as the petitioner should be available.

    In addition, the employer’s external or in-house Threat Management Team should review the protective order to determine whether the place of employment is included. If it is, an assessment should be performed to determine which risks are present and how to mitigate them. Another best practice is to notify the local police jurisdiction and organization’s front desk security team about the order of protection in case the abuser is observed in the area or in the event they violate the order and a public safety response is needed.
  4. Anonymous Hotlines for Reporting Domestic Abuse-Related Issues Can Be Very Effective
    Anonymous hotlines are particularly effective in enabling two-way conversations, even if the caller remains anonymous. Typically, in these situations, the caller’s alert, information or report can be assigned a code making it easy for the anonymous employee to check in and clarify, add to the information provided, or receive feedback from the investigation, if doing so is legally appropriate.
  5. It’s Critical That Employees Feel Safe Coming Forward With Information
    Employees themselves – either those directly at risk of abuse or individuals concerned about their colleagues – collectively represent one of the best sources of information to help ensure a safe workplace. Several practices can greatly reinforce confidence among the workforce that they and any information they provide will be handled appropriately, if they were to come forward.
    In addition to establishing anonymous hotlines or portals for colleagues to report concerning behavior or scenarios, common support options include, for example, creating a culture of courtesy and respect by avoiding the use of punitive language or tactics, engaging strong upper-level management support, sharing information on where IPV survivors can get help, and training employees to recognize signs of victimization.

Finally, keep in mind that the major attacks so often featured in the media seldom represent the violence and domestic abuse that occurs every day in the workplace. Most of the time it’s about fear, intimidation and control, weapons that are sometimes easy to hide in the shadows.

That doesn’t make domestic violence prevention in the home and workplace any less of a priority or less consequential to lives and businesses. It just means your workplace violence prevention program must cast a wide net in addressing the root causes of violence as well as the very earliest of symptoms. That requires experience, best practices and a deeply rooted commitment to workplace safety.

Learn more about how we can help you establish a workplace violence prevention program that fosters a safe working environment, mitigates the risks of an incident, and facilitates the achievement of business and mission objectives.

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About the author

Debra K. Kirby
Debra Kirby serves as the Operations Leader, Midwest for Jensen Hughes.

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