Supporting employees experiencing domestic violence
Alexis Paskalides, MSW, LCSW
Broken, bruised, and battered features are the obvious signs of domestic abuse. However, just as physical injuries demand our care and attention, it is imperative that the psychological and emotional scars resulting from domestic violence are also addressed. Undetectable by X-rays, these wounds can damage a person’s sense of self and rob them of their ability to live a rich, full life. Workplace Options counselor, Alexis Paskalides, walks you through 7 ways to support an employee experiencing domestic violence.
Mental health issues commonly associated with domestic violence include post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, and anxiety. In addition, some individuals may turn to substance use, overeating, or other unhealthy behaviors as a way to cope with the emotional and physical pain of abuse. Although people of all genders experience domestic violence, women face a higher risk of serious injury. Domestic violence happens in all cultures and religions, in all ethnic and racial communities, at every age, and in every income group.
Domestic Violence and the Workplace
According to the World Health Organization, almost 30 percent of women globally who have been in a relationship have experienced physical and/or sexual violence by their intimate partner. Often, the abuse follows them to work. For example, abusers may try to cause partners or ex-partners to be late or to miss work by stealing their keys or work clothes or by using physical restraint. Abusers may also excessively call, email, or text victims while they are at work. Abusers have stalked their partners and even come into the workplace. In one study, 70 percent of employed women experiencing domestic abuse said that their abuser have harassed them at work.
A UK report estimated that domestic abuse costs UK businesses £1.9 billion a year in terms of decreased productivity, time off work, lost wages, and sick pay. In a 2019 survey, between 21 and 56 percent of those who have had experienced domestic violence reported being less productive at work as a result of the abuse. Absenteeism and poor work performance can leave survivors vulnerable to discipline, and some even lose their jobs.
Seven Ways Managers and Coworkers Can Support an Individual Facing Domestic Abuse
Work can be one of the few places where an individual experiencing abuse is allowed to go alone. Not only can the workplace be a safe haven, but managers and coworkers may be among a handful of people who can recognize abuse and offer support. Below are seven ways employers can leverage the workplace to address domestic violence.
- Seek to create a supportive workplace culture that values employee wellbeing physically and emotionally.
- Take steps to protect the physical safety of workers at the worksite (limit building access, provide onsite security, etc.).
- Develop workplace policies and practices that would provide job protection, and make resources available to help victims leave abusive situations.
- Provide flexibility, if needed, so that workers can attend court, meet with a service provider, move, change commute pattern, etc.
- Educate employees on confidential resources available, including the employee wellbeing program, to safely address domestic violence.
- Train managers on how to recognize and address with sensitivity potential situations of domestic violence.
- Bring in local domestic violence support organizations to share information about services provided.
Managers and employees are also encouraged to be familiar with the potential signs of domestic violence, so that resources and support can be cautiously and confidentially provided at the workplace.
Those symptoms include the following:
- Visible injury or bruising
- Dressing in a way that is inconsistent with the season (bulky clothes or long sleeves to hide possible injuries)
- Spending increased time at work
- Obsessiveness with leaving work on time
- Partner frequently dropping by work
- Increased number of texts or calls
- Isolation from friends, family, or coworkers
- Signs of increased tardiness or absenteeism
- Request to change work email or phone number
- Reduced productivity
The COVID-19 Effect on Domestic Violence
In 2020, the lockdowns associated with the global COVID-19 pandemic has not only made it more difficult for women to escape abusive partners, in many instances, it has also exposed them to increased violence. According to the United Nations:
- Emergency calls for domestic violence have increased by 25 percent in Argentina.
- Helplines in Singapore and Cyprus have experienced a 30 percent increase in calls.
- Domestic violence cases have increased by 30 percent in France.
With much of the world working remotely, it has become even more difficult to recognize the potential signs of domestic abuse. However, it’s possible that remote work could provide new insight into how an employee is being treated at home.
What To Do if Abuse Is Suspected
In situations where a manager or employee suspects possible abuse, it is important to address the concern with tremendous sensitivity and caution.
- Share your personal concern for the safety of the individual.
- Educate employee on what confidential resources are available.
- Respect the employee’s boundaries. If an individual is unwilling to discuss, don’t force a conversation.
- Avoid expressing judgment or shock; don’t criticize their decisions; don’t try to “fix” the situation.
- In some situations, company policy may dictate that you must report your concern to HR. If you believe the individual is in imminent danger and/or you have concern for workplace safety, involve HR and/or local law enforcement. Otherwise, your concerns should remain confidential.
Domestic violence is not a private issue or a family issue. It is a complex, community issue. The worst way to respond is to close your eyes and pretend that it doesn’t exist.
Disclaimer: This document is intended for general information only. It does not provide the reader with specific direction, advice, or recommendations. You may wish to contact an appropriate professional for questions concerning your particular situation.
Workplace Options helps employees balance their work, family, and personal needs to become healthier, happier, and more productive, both personally and professionally. The company’s world-class employee support, effectiveness, and wellbeing services provide information, resources, referrals, and consultation on a variety of issues ranging from dependent care and stress management to clinical services and wellness programs. To learn more visit www.workplaceoptions.com.