At it’s core, domestic violence is about one individual exercising power and control over another. It is defined as when one person is being harmed by another person while they are in a domestic relationship. Signs of domestic violence in an employee, co-worker, or colleague can sometimes be obvious. However, with the rise in remote working, these signs may become more difficult to detect, particularly if the victimised employee actively seeks to conceal the effects of the abuse. During the COVID-19 crisis, an abuser may use one of your employee’s remote work situation as an opportunity to tighten control over his or her victim.
Experts in the area of mental health and wellness agree, the prevalence and severity of domestic violence impacting the workplace should demand the attention of employers, Emanagers, human resources and security staff. Yet, a large percentage of organisations do not have a formal workplace domestic violence prevention policy. HR professionals may be reluctant to dig into employees’ personal lives, but by providing carefully considered, policy-aligned support for workers suffering from domestic abuse, HR may be able to protect employees, prevent workplace tragedies and boost productivity.
Experts in the area of mental health and wellness agree, the prevalence and severity of domestic violence impacting the workplace should demand the attention of employers…
How can domestic violence impact the workplace?
Domestic violence can impact operations in several ways. These include:
- The negative business effects of domestic violence can include loss of productivity and performance.
- A determined abuser knows that the victim can likely be found at work and may seek to contact them at the office. So, the potential for domestic violence and intimate partner relationships to spill into the workplace has been repeatedly recognised as a potential threat to employee safety.
- In the current COVID-19 crisis, where many employees are working from home, if their abuser is listening or monitoring work communications, or reading and editing company correspondence, these behaviours present significant security and data privacy concerns for an organisation and its client base.
“The negative business effects of domestic violence can include loss of productivity and performance.”
Guidelines for Managers
Victims often fear leaving their abusive partner because of threats that have been made concerning their safety or their children’s safety. Because the abusing partner often controls all the finances as well as phone, social contact and car access, the most opportune time for an abused employee to plan for a safe transition may be during work hours.
“The most important aspect of helping employees who are a victim of domestic violence is that your workers need to be able to trust you, or else they won’t reach out for help.”
- The most important aspect of helping employees who are a victim of domestic violence is that your workers need to be able to trust you, or else they won’t reach out for help.
- Before approaching an employee with concerns that they may be in a domestic violence situation, think carefully about who would be the best person(s) to have this conversation and what should and should not be discussed.
- If the employee tells you that she (or he) is in an abusive relationship:
- Communicate your concerns for the safety of the employee and for the employee’s children if there are any.
- Inform the employee that the Employee Assistance Programme (EAP) can provide free and confidential assistance with counselling and safety planning.
- If your organisation does not have an EAP refer the employee to other available community resources.
To reduce risk in a potentially dangerous situation, managers and HR professionals should avoid becoming involved in counselling the employee or providing personal logistical support (e.g. offering your home as a shelter, taking responsibility for making safety checks at the employee’s home, making personal loans etc.). Managers should not deal with these volatile problems alone and should seek confidential consultation with:
- EAP practitioners about counselling and community resources.
- Security staff about workplace safety issues
- HR staff regarding time off and performance issues etc.
“To reduce risk in a potentially dangerous situation, managers and HR professionals should avoid becoming involved in counselling the employee or providing personal logistical support…”
Keep the focus on what the workplace can do to help.
- Ask the employee if any changes could be made at work to make them feel safer, for example providing a photo of abuser to company security or changing their work location
- Allow employees the opportunity to make private telephone calls or attend appointments during work hours.
- Respect the employee’s privacy and maintain your relationship as a supervisor, not as a counsellor.