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Domestic Violence in the Workplace – Prevention Tips and Employer Responsibilities

By some estimates, domestic violence in the U.S is so widespread that nearly 20 people per minute suffer physical abuse at the hands of a partner. This is just one facet of a complex and often underreported issue that also includes abuses such as sexual assault, psychological violence, and stalking. Often referred to simply as domestic violence, it may also be known as “relationship abuse,” or “intimate partner violence” (IPV), with these broader terms intimating that its impact is not confined only to the home.

Having worked within the hospitality industry as an undocumented worker, I have seen firsthand the impact that domestic violence has on staff, as well as how easily it can spill outside of the home. Equally, it is often those most vulnerable workers that suffer most, both at home and in the workplace, with up to 49.8% of immigrant women subject to abuse.

With these figures in mind, this article will explore domestic violence or IPV, that happens within the workplace, discuss ways that your business can prepare for and prevent it, and detail your legal obligations to anyone suffering abuse, as well as to your workforce.

Understanding Domestic Violence in the Workplace

The effects of domestic violence and abusive partners are a workplace issue that can be felt both directly and indirectly. This takes into consideration the victims of domestic violence and your wider workforce. In addition, domestic violence that happens within the workplace also has the potential to impact customers and service users, as well as affect relationships with partners or investors. 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that IPV victims lose up to 8 million days of paid work each year, indicating that reduced productivity and increased absenteeism are huge issues that link directly to domestic violence. However, one study from the Office of Justice Programs found that over 18% of currently-victimized employees reported experiencing some form of IPV on work premises. This not only creates hostile and unsafe environments for the abused, but the fear of encountering the perpetrator at work is real and any violent incidents within the workplace can physically and psychologically affect everyone on staff.

Both direct and indirect impacts of domestic violence can spread to colleagues and co-workers, decreasing morale, heightening stress levels, and generally impacting job performance. In turn, productivity is reduced and absenteeism is increased across your entire workforce while compromising workplace safety and contributing to a less supportive environment for all employees.

Domestic Violence in the Workplace – An Industry Snapshot

While domestic violence can enter the workplace within any industry, the healthcare sector is of particular concern. In fact, healthcare facilities record twice the number of violent workplace incidents as that of private industry, and according to the 2022 Workplace Violence Prevention Handbook from the Crisis Prevention Institute, relatives or domestic partners are responsible for more than twice the number of homicides as patients. 

As a resource designed to give healthcare professionals the tools they need to manage both WPV, it offers the following advice on domestic violence within the workplace. 

  • Middle management should maintain enough genuine familiarity with team members to understand whether they are at risk of domestic violence spilling into the work setting. 
  • Training should aim to raise awareness of domestic violence policies and workplace support.
  • A proactive plan about when domestic violence is affecting the workplace should be created. 

While this advice is designed to target vulnerable workers within the healthcare industry, much of it can be extended to other industries. However, in addition to this, below we look at a range of IPV prevention tips  that can be used within any setting in more detail.

Prevention Tips

Aiming to prevent IPV in the workplace should be part of your workplace violence prevention plan, with special care taken to address the following areas:

 1. Integrate a Domestic Violence Workplace Policy

  • Develop comprehensive policy and workplace safety plans outlining the organization’s stance on domestic violence and providing resources for domestic violence victims.
  • Train managers and staff on recognizing signs of domestic violence and responding appropriately.
  • Ensure confidentiality and non-discrimination for employees disclosing their experiences with domestic violence.

2. Foster a Supportive Workplace Culture

  • Cultivate an environment of empathy and support where employees feel comfortable seeking assistance.
  • Offer employee assistance programs (EAPs) providing counseling and resources for those affected by domestic violence.
  • Encourage open communication channels for employees to report concerns or seek guidance confidentially.

3. Raise Awareness and Provide Training

  • Conduct regular training sessions to educate employees on the signs of domestic violence and available support services.
  • Distribute informational materials and resources to increase awareness and empower employees to take action.
  • Collaborate with local advocacy organizations to host workshops and events promoting domestic violence awareness.

Legal Obligations and Compliance

Currently, there are no federal laws that directly address the rights of IPV victims. However, a variety of state and federal laws are currently in force that cover the impacts of this type of abuse.

For example, OSHA requires employers to maintain safe workplaces, and staff have the right to speak up about hazards without fear of recrimination from the employer. At the state level, there are various laws related to safe unpaid leave, anti-discrimination, and reasonable accommodations for domestic violence survivors.

 Ultimately, your legal responsibilities will vary from state to state, so it’s crucial to be aware of current state law, as well as to maintain a safe working environment in line with OSHA recommendations.

Employer Responsibilities

As one of the 4 types of workplace violence, employers are responsible for protecting employees from IPV incidents and any associated workplace issues. This means you should begin building a domestic violence policy that covers the following elements.

Provide Safety Measures
  • Assess workplace safety issues and implement safeguards to protect employees from potential harm.
  • Offer flexible work arrangements or relocation options for employees at risk of encountering their abusers in the workplace.
  • Collaborate with law enforcement agencies to ensure swift responses to threats or incidents of domestic violence.
Offer Supportive Resources
  • Establish partnerships with local shelters and support organizations to provide immediate assistance to employees in crisis.
  • Offer paid leave or flexible scheduling options for employees seeking medical or legal assistance related to domestic violence.
  • Ensure access to confidential counseling services and referrals for employees and their families.
Educate and Train Staff
  • Train managers and HR personnel on responding sensitively and effectively to disclosures of domestic violence.
  • Educate all employees on the organization’s policies and procedures regarding domestic violence prevention and intervention.
  • Foster a culture of awareness and accountability by regularly reviewing and updating training materials and protocols.

Conclusion

While it’s easy to think of domestic violence as only happening in the home and behind closed doors, the reality is that it can spill into the workplace. Knowing its effects on past colleagues and co-workers in the places I have worked, it can have truly devastating effects. Any responsible employer or human resources department should be taking steps to address both the direct and indirect impacts associated with IPV and provide confidential support to victims and education and training to the rest of the team.

For more information on how ROAR can help provide your staff with discreet, wearable panic buttons that can alert your security personnel or law enforcement in the case of IPV incidents in the workplace, contact us today for more information.

Finally, for anyone currently experiencing domestic violence of any kind, the National Domestic Violence Hotline provides free, 24/7 confidential support.

About Author

Yasmine Mustafa

Yasmine Mustafa believes ROAR found her, not the other way around. A former refugee and undocumented immigrant, she draws upon her unique life experiences to lead ROAR in its mission to empower and protect workers across all industries. Her journey is a testament to resilience and unwavering commitment. With over 15 years of leadership in the tech industry, including the successful sale of her first company, 123LinkIt, to a firm in Silicon Valley in 2009, Yasmine is a driving force for positive change, balancing profits with purpose. Yasmine’s workplace safety advocacy and leadership have earned recognition from the BBC, CNBC’s Upstart 100 and the City of Philadelphia. Yasmine is a highly sought-after conference speaker. A two-time TEDx speaker, Yasmine has also presented at the prestigious SXSW and CES conferences, sharing her deep passion for harnessing technology for positive change. Beyond her professional life, Yasmine enjoys time spent with friends and family, exploring the outdoors, biking, and hiking. She also dedicates her time to the boards of Coded by Kids, Leadership Philadelphia, and the Philadelphia Alliance for Capital and Technologies.

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