How Domestic Violence Impacts the Workplace

How Domestic Violence Impacts the Workplace

domestic violence in the workplaceIt was painful in 2014 to watch the NFL and Roger Goodell make misstep after misstep in their handling of running back Ray Rice’s domestic violence incident.

As a human resources professional and as a business owner, I asked myself repeatedly, “Where are the NFL’s HR people, and why don’t they already have policies and procedures in place?”

Domestic violence may take place at home, but it has a serious impact on workplaces. Employers must take steps to mitigate this damage.

How domestic violence impacts the workplace:

Domestic violence impacts the workplace in many ways.

In the Ray Rice situation, the accused is the employee, and the impact is on the business’s public image and reputation. In other situations where the perpetrator is the employee, there may be concerns about the safety of others in the workplace.

On the flipside, the effects of domestic violence also impact the workplace when the victim is the employee, which brings its own set of issues.

Statistics about domestic violence:

According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence:

  • In The United States, twenty people every minute are victims of physical violence by a partner.
  • On a typical day, domestic violence hotlines field more than 20,000 calls.
  • A study of homicides involving domestic violence revealed that 20% of the time the murder victim is not the domestic violence victim, but instead family members, friends, co-workers, neighbors, bystanders, etc.

If you think this is unlikely to be a concern for your business, think again!

  • Domestic violence victims lose 8 million paid days of work every year
  • Domestic violence’s impact on businesses exceeds $8.3 billion a year, which includes $727.8 million for lost productivity.

Questions employers need to ask themselves about domestic violence:

You need to assess how domestic violence impacts your workplace. There are two main areas of concern for businesses:

  • What will you do if an employee is accused of committing domestic violence?
  • What will you do if an employee is the victim of domestic violence?

Don’t be caught unprepared like the NFL! Putting some thought into this now could save your company agony and embarrassment, and could also ensure employee safety.

Can employers be found negligent because of domestic violence?

In the normal hiring process, employers don’t consider arrests unless they result in a conviction. But that thought pattern can change when an active employee is accused of domestic violence.

Employers must think about whether the presence of the accused in the workplace presents a safety issue to other employees.

Under OSHA’s general duty clause, employers are required to provide a work environment that is free from recognized hazards that might cause serious physical harm to employees.

It’s easy to extrapolate that an employer could be found negligent if an employee accused of violence remains in the workplace, and a coworker is consequently harmed.

Employers must address domestic violence issues with caution:

Obviously, we can’t predict the future or what actions an employee might take, and we know people are innocent until proven guilty. Therefore, employers need to proceed with thought and caution.

No two situations are likely to be the same.

Employers must carefully gather the facts when a worker is accused of domestic violence. Once all the information is reviewed, employers can choose to do nothing, or to put the employee on paid or unpaid leave until the issue is resolved.

One of the challenges in a situation like this is speed. It’s important to act quickly, but employers must base their decisions on thorough and accurate information.

It’s embarrassing at minimum and damaging at worst for companies to base a big decision on incorrect information, and then have to reverse course later, as we saw the NFL do.

Legal protection for employees victimized by domestic violence:

If your employee is a victim of domestic violence, Washington State has some laws about the victim’s rights.

Under the Domestic Leave Law:

  • Victims of domestic violence, sexual assault or stalking may take paid or reasonable unpaid leave from work for the purpose of handling legal or law enforcement needs or to obtain health care.
  • This right extends to their family members who are helping them as well.
  • Employers cannot terminate, demote, or in any way discriminate against someone based on their status as a victim.

Keep in mind that the Family Medical Leave Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act may also come into play.

Domestic Violence & employee privacy:

It’s important to create a work environment in which your employees feel comfortable and safe letting their supervisor know that they are being victimized.

If you suspect your employee is a victim, you can open the channels of communication, but you also must respect their right to privacy.

Some companies put information about domestic violence hotlines in employee gathering spaces to ensure victims know where to go to get help.

How can businesses help when employees are domestic violence victims?

If your employee does disclose that they are a victim of domestic violence, how can you help?

Protect their confidentiality: It’s important to protect the employee’s confidentiality to the biggest extent possible. Let them know to whom you have disclosed info about their abuse. For example, you might need to notify a security person or the employee’s direct supervisor.

Remember that you are not a domestic violence expert: Make sure you know someone who is an expert on domestic violence and refer your employee to the appropriate services and resources.

Talk with your employee about their safety at work and how you can assist them: It might be something simple like giving them a parking space close to the door. For a while, it might be helpful to let them flex their hours, alter their schedule, or telecommute.

Give your employee flexibility: If they have to move into a shelter or relocate, they may need to lessen their responsibilities or hours at work for a while. You may need to screen their calls, or move their workspace, so it is not as accessible to the public.

Train your staff well: While your entire staff doesn’t need to know the details, they should always know what to do if someone enters the workplace and is a threat to anyone. Put those procedures in place and talk about them regularly with your staff at your safety meetings.

Domestic violence resources for employers:

As you keep in mind that you’re not the expert, know that there are many experts out there, and they can also assist you, the employer. Don’t hesitate to call a hotline for advice yourself.

  • The YWCA is a great resource in Kitsap County. Their shelter program provides temporary emergency housing and other supportive services.
  • The WRAPS Project is a professional clothing and everyday attire program which provides clothing and accessories for victims and their children. They have a Legal Advocacy program to provide essential free services. And their 24-hour crisis line can be reached at (800) 500-5513.

The importance of being prepared:

We all hope and pray that domestic violence won’t be an issue for anyone we know. But in my life, I’ve had co-workers, friends and family victimized, and I bet you also know at least one person yourself.

Better to plan ahead for the problem, and never need to execute the plan, than to be frantic in the midst of a crisis and have people call for your resignation, as they did for Roger Goodell!

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