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Recognizing and responding to domestic violence in the workplace

What does domestic violence look like in the workplace?

Colleagues, managers and supervisors may detect a pattern of one or more of the following signs/ behaviors in the workplace that MAY be an indicator of domestic violence:

  • Visible physical injuries
  • Stress-related illnesses
  • Marital or family problems
  • Alcohol or other addictions
  • Depression, suicidal thoughts or attempts
  • Absenteeism, lateness, leaving work early, arriving early
  • Strict adherence to starting and ending times
  • Inability to travel away from the office for work-related events
  • Decreased job performance
  • Unusual/excessive number of phone calls
  • Disruptive personal visits
  • Abrupt changes in personality, including isolating from other coworkers and lack of participation in office functions/events
  • Fatigue

 

What can a manager/supervisor or co-worker do?

The presence of the signs/behaviors listed above does not mean the employee is definitely a victim of domestic violence. However, if you are a manager or supervisor and you notice these signs in your employee, or if you have other reasons to suspect that they might be a victim of domestic violence, it is time to ask some questions, in private, away from other staff. For example:

  • “Is there anything going on at home that is making it hard for you to get to work, or get to work on time?”
  • “I notice there has been a change in your performance. Is there anything going on at home that is impacting your performance?”
  • “I’ve noticed you’re getting a lot of upsetting phone calls. Is there something we can do to assist with that?”

If you are a concerned co-worker, you might want to say:

  • “I’m concerned about you. If I can be of any help, please let me know.”
  • “I heard you crying when you hung up the phone this morning. Do you feel like talking about it? I would like to help you get the support you need.”
  • “I noticed your split lip and the bruise on your arm. I’m concerned for your safety and I’d like to help.”

Asking these questions and making these statements might be uncomfortable at first, and employees may not readily admit that there is anything wrong. However, by speaking with the employee, you are sending the message that you have seen something, you are saying something, and you are willing to assist them if and when they are ready. While they may not be open to assistance when you first speak to them, you have planted the idea that someone has noticed and is available to help.

If we say nothing, we are sending the message to our colleague that they are on their own and we don’t want to be involved. Ultimately, by not saying anything we are reinforcing the perpetrator’s control and dominance. Reaching out conveys the message that they are not alone.

It is important to note that not all employees will feel comfortable or able to help victims in the same way. It is ok to feel unprepared or unsafe when you think about reaching out to a victim of domestic violence. If you have concerns about the safety of another employee, but do not feel comfortable reaching out to a victim, contact any of these on- and off- campus resources for assistance.

 

What if an employee confirms they are experiencing domestic violence?

  • Let the employee know that you are concerned for their safety.
    • “I’m concerned for your safety. I’d like to help if I can.”
    • “I’m worried about you. It sounds like you may not be safe.”
    • “Your situation sounds dangerous. I’m concerned for your safety.”
  • Validate their experience and let them know that you believe them.
    • “You are not alone. This happens to lots of people.”
    • “You are not to blame. It’s not your fault.”
    • “You are not crazy. Your feelings are normal and reasonable for someone who’s been through what you’ve been through.”
    • “It sounds like you have good reason to be afraid”
    • “Help is available. I’d like to help if I can.”
  • Refer the employee to any of these on- and off- campus resources for assistance.
  • Provide support for the employee’s decision. Don’t judge the success of your intervention by the employee’s action and remember that there are risks attached to every decision a victim makes. Be patient and respectful of a victim’s decisions, even if you don’t agree with them.
  • Provide them with a copy of Finding Safety & Support (www.opdv.ny.gov/publications/index.html). This is a comprehensive guide for survivors and helpers with up-to-date information about adult domestic violence, safety planning, and getting help from domestic violence services, the police, and the courts.

 

What shouldn’t a manager/supervisor or co-worker do?

  • Never suggest that an employee go home and pack their bags and leave. Leaving is a very dangerous time for a victim of domestic violence. At this critical time violence often escalates and/or domestic violence homicides occur. It is essential to have a safety plan in place prior to leaving. If an employee is in imminent danger, suggest that they use your phone to call the police or the Center for Safety & Change (the local domestic violence service provider). The provider can help them leave in an emergency as safely as possible.
  • Don’t ask questions that judge the employee’s choices:
    • Why don’t you just leave?
    • Why did you go back?
    • Why did you wait so long?
  • Don’t suggest marriage or family counseling. Services that require victims to participate in joint sessions with their abusive partners increase a victim’s risk of physical and emotional harm and are therefore not recommended for dealing with domestic violence.
  • Don’t do “nothing.” Silence sends the wrong message and can be more hurtful than if you should say something awkward.

 

Information adapted from Domestic Violence and the Workplace: A Handbook for Employers, which is published by the New York State Office for the Prevention of Domestic Violence.