By: Sam Haskell-Evans
Domestic violence (DV) runs rampant throughout the U.S. with more than 10 million people being subjected to this violence per year (Social Solutions, 2023). With such a high number, the chances that you may know someone in your workplace who has been a victim of DV are quite high.
Many folks who are experiencing DV are afraid to speak out and ask for help because of the fear of repercussions that may occur. Employers have a wonderful opportunity to create a safe place for their employees to feel comfortable enough to ask for help if they are being abused and get them connected to the right support.
Employers should know some important information on how to best help their employees in DV situations. First is knowing some basic signs and behaviors that may be indicators of DV. Some things you may notice in an employee, but are not exclusive to, are visible physical injuries, stress-related illnesses, marital or family problems, alcohol or other addictions, significant mental health concerns, absenteeism, lateness, leaving work early/arriving to work 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, isolating from other coworkers, lack of participation in office functions/events, and fatigue. If you notice any of these signs it may be worth having a safe conversation with your employee.
Before acting check your state’s laws related to workplace rights on protecting victims of DV. If your state does not have anything in place, check with your employer because there should be established and written policies on leave requests and related issues that could be extremely helpful for your employee to know.
If you then choose to ask questions to your employee, first create a safe place where you can ask these questions without your employee feeling attacked or targeted. Make sure to do so in private space, away from other staff, and in a spot that removes the power dynamic. Questions and statements that may be helpful to say are things like, “I have noticed some changes occurring around you and I am worried about your health and safety. Is there anything I could help with?” or “I heard you crying when you hung up the phone this morning. Is there anything you would like to talk about? I would like to help if possible.”
Asking questions and making statements like these may feel uncomfortable at first and the employee may choose not to disclose anything. These statements and questions help send the message that you have seen something, you are saying something, and you are willing to assist if and when they are ready. If an employee does take the opportunity to disclose, let them know that you are concerned for their safety, validate their experience, and let them know you believe them. Then refer them to any local resources for assistance, help with safety planning, and provide support for the employee’s decision. Do not judge or take it personally if it does not go the way you plan, there are risks attached to every decision a victim makes. Respect their decision even if you do not agree.
There are some things that should not be said if there is a disclosure. Never suggest that an employee go home and pack their bags. Leaving is an extremely dangerous time for a victim of DV. Do not ask questions that judge the employee’s choices. Some of these questions could be, “Why don’t you leave?” or “Why did you go back?” Also, do not suggest marriage or family counseling. These types of services require joint sessions, and they can increase the victim’s risk of harm from their abuser.
If you or someone you know is in a DV situation, please do not hesitate to reach out to your local DV agency for help. If you are living in Cumberland or Perry County, your local DV hotline is 1-800-852-2102. An advocate is available to talk 24/7.
Information adapted from Recognizing and Responding to Domestic Violence in the Workplace, which is published by Rockland Community College State University of New York; How do we help an employee we suspect is the victim of domestic violence? Which was published by the Society of Human Resource Managers.