Domestic Violence: Six Steps to a Safe Work Environment

Individuals dealing with domestic violence at work can wind up feeling battered themselves by all the competing interests at stake. The employee/victim often looks to the human resource professional as an advocate who provides protection and, if the abuse is interfering with their work, someone who will fight to help them keep the financial independence that is such a critical part of leaving a domestic violence situation.  Senior management has difficulty understanding why human resources is involved in what they perceive to be either a social problem or a personal matter, while the victim’s supervisor wants the employee to do her job – period.

The key to HR’s emotional survival in these stressful situations is to know where and how to marshal available resources so your actions don’t get clouded by the emotions inherent in these situations or the competing interests of those involved.

Here are six ways you can begin to create a culture that promotes safety and respect:

  • Incorporate a specific intimate partner violence clause in your general policies on workplace safety.  Make sure your policy addresses performance issues related to victims of domestic violence, provides accountability for employees who use company property (mail, e-mail, letters, phones) to harass a family or household member, and outlines the rights of domestic violence victims as they relate to the use of company time and resources to handle domestic violence and/or resulting legal issues.
  • Educate senior managers on the critical need for workplace violence prevention training.  Workplace conflict historically escalates during economic downturns, yet few CEOS recognize just how volatile the workplace can be.
  • Coordinate with your legal and security departments to develop workplace safety response plans and provide reasonable means to assist victimized employees in developing and implementing individualized workplace safety strategies.
  • Get the word out.  Post information on domestic violence and available resources in the work site in places where employees can obtain it without having to request it or be seen removing it, such as employee rest rooms, lounge areas, as inserts in employee benefits packages and/or as part of new employee orientation.
  • Train your managers to recognize — to be aware of signs of violence for potential victims and perpetrators. Managers should understand how to respond – to appropriately address changes in behavior that are affecting performance and to stay clear of common pitfalls, such as offering personal advice or attempting to counsel.  Finally, managers should learn to whom to refer – whom to call internally and externally if such a situation arises.
  • Make sure all HR staff is trained to deal with workplace violence issues.  HR professionals are tasked with dealing with violent employee threats, yet, according to a recent SHRM study, few actually receive such training.  Maintain a list of domestic violence services, including: the phone number and description of local domestic violence service providers, employee assistance, if available, and information on how to obtain orders of protection and criminal justice options.

A Win-Win

The significant impact on business – from safety issues to economic considerations – encourages employers to recognize that violence is not someone else’s problem.  Whether employers are acting out of economic self-interest or not, businesses’ recent move toward understanding and dealing with domestic violence spillover at work is a win for everyone.  HR professionals can have a strong influence in persuading senior management to give them – and the rest of the workforce – the training and support they need to deal with potentially violent work situations; there’s nothing like the threat of a lawsuit to get employers to shift a backburner issue to the foreground.  Whether the motive is genuine concern for employee well-being or protection for the bottom line, the positive impact is the same.  Or, as my grandmother used to say, sometimes people do good in spite of themselves.

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