Domestic Violence and the Workplace: How Employers Can Support Workers

Domestic violence is an issue that occurs all around the world and can have a big effect on employees who are going through such a situation. While the topic might not be top of mind when it comes to leadership and employee management, it is something you need to be aware of and plan for.

Domestic violence leads to businesses losing millions of dollars’ worth of productivity each year, and can have a profound impact not just on the affected team member’s job performance, but potentially that of the rest of the workforce as well. Read on for some ways you can help to support workers today.

Learn About the Problem and Build Awareness
For starters, it’s important to actually learn about and understand the problem. Note that it’s not one that affects only a certain type of victim, such as those of a particular age, or socioeconomic or educational background. It also comes in numerous forms, such as physical, verbal, emotional and financial abuse.

Domestic violence is not perpetrated only by psychopaths or people who seem to be noticeably volatile either. In fact, many perpetrators are outwardly very charming, which is how they get close to their victim in the first place. As time goes on they change their behaviors towards their victim, but to outsiders, particularly those they rarely see, they may come across as happy, witty, interesting people.

Employers should work to build awareness around domestic violence in the office. Ensure all staff members have an understanding of the issue. This can be done through employee orientation and training programs, emails, posters, handbooks, brochures, company intranet sites, and so on.

Provide a Supportive Environment for Workers
Next, find ways to provide a supportive environment for workers who are in an abusive relationship. It’s good for employees to have access to a variety of resources. On top of material that explains signs of domestic abuse, how the cycle of abuse works, statistics and other key details, workers should be able to receive time away from work to attend court hearings, police interviews, counseling and for other reasons relating to abuse.

It pays to give your team members access to trained staff too, such as those who have completed accredited Masters of Social Work programs online or other relevant degrees, and who have worked in the area of domestic violence for years. These people can provide counseling to affected employees on site, and help them with tools to cope. Counselors can assist victims to gain access to helpful services in the community, too.

Provide Training
Managers of a business and other leaders should also receive training to help them know how to recognize signs an employee may be being abused at home. They can learn ways to address changes in behavior at work that are affecting a team member’s performance or attitude, and discover how to best support employees who self-disclose the problem to them.

Leaders who have been trained appropriately are better able to have supportive conversations with employees that help them to feel heard and understood; and they will know how to lead the development of an individualized safety plan for affected workers.

Once training is complete, managers will be up to date on issues of privacy and confidentiality, too. They must understand that even though they have the best intentions, they must be careful not to take matters into their own hands and further upset or put at risk the employees who are in abusive relationships. Training can teach leaders about keeping employee information confidential, too, and about how the flow of information can be controlled.

Have Policies and Procedures in Place
Lastly, business owners should put policies and procedures in place. This paperwork will need to address various elements, such as job protection offered to victims who may need to have time away from their work to receive counseling or attend to relevant matters; and the types of resources which will be made available to workers.

In addition, policies should mention what happens if it’s found abusers are working within the company. Regardless of whether these people are superstar employees or not, companies should be prepared to discipline and, if need be, terminate perpetrators (but following applicable legal regulations). Policies must be uniformly applied to all.

Businesses need to have procedures drawn up for workers to follow to support victims and keep them, and their colleagues, safe from perpetrators. For example, a response plan could include a picture and description of known abusers so security and HR staff can stop them from entering the premises or the specific offices of the victims.

Procedures should also detail what to do if there is imminent danger for anyone (e.g. call 911 and evacuate the building, or enter safer, lockable rooms if possible); and list the emergency contact person for the victim, in case they’re unreachable one day and staff are concerned for their safety.

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