What to Do When Domestic Violence Comes to Work
By Jame Geathers, Owner, Jame Geathers Consulting
October is National Domestic Violence Awareness month. While domestic violence is often dismissed as a private matter, it affects every part of our community, especially businesses.
Based on a 2012 study conducted by The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, domestic violence costs companies $5.4 billion annually. As a small business owner you may be thinking, “that must be large corporations with thousands of employees, I needn’t bother with that.”
As a small business owner, the risk of being held liable due to not having strong workplace violence policies or systems in place to assist or even identify an employee in a domestic violence situation could be devastating. On top of those two major factors, let’s factor in the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA) general duty clause that states that each employer “shall furnish … a place of employment which is free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm to his employees.” Translation – ignoring domestic violence could be a very costly mistake for your business.
Now that I have your attention, let’s discuss how to create a safer workplace through policy and planning. As I’m sure you know, having updated policies and procedures are of the upmost importance. This includes workplace and domestic violence policies.
These should include explaining that if an employee is being threatened with violence at home or in the workplace they can report this to human resources or your designated employee. They should also outline the steps for reporting the violence, including the position of the person they will report it to. This information must be kept confidential and should not be used against the employee in any way.
In addition to the policy for reporting, I recommend creating a confidential policy that is shared only with the person taking the complaint and members of management. This policy should include documenting all details provided, referrals to local agencies such as Safe Homes, contact information for the Employee Assistance Program (EAP) line and notifying the management team, security and/or law enforcement if there is an imminent threat of violence.
Now that you have your policies in place, how do you identify an employee who may need your help? Unfortunately, domestic violence does not discriminate. Victims can be any age, race, socioeconomic level, any education level, any gender and any sexual orientation.
While it is virtually impossible to guess who will be a victim of domestic violence, a few telltale signs to look for are: Constant absenteeism or lateness, poor concentration and/or errors from a normally competent employee, injuries such as bruises or black eyes, sudden requests for time off to attend court, unusual isolation from co-workers, an excessive number of texts or phone calls during the work day, or unwelcome visits by the employee’s partner to the workplace, particularly if the employee appears visibly shaken or upset afterwards. This is by no means an exhaustive list but rather a few signs to look out for.
Once you have created your policies, created your plan and kept your eyes open for employees who are in a domestic violence situation, there’s still one challenge – what if they are not ready to accept help?
Victims of domestic violence have many reasons for staying in the relationship. Let the employee know that when they are ready, resources are available and be careful to avoid any action that could be misconstrued as retaliation against that employee.
If you have an employee who is a victim of domestic violence and they are not ready to accept any assistance, you still have a responsibility to keep your workplace safe for that employee and the rest of your team. Be sure to notify managers and security of the situation so that they can be on the lookout for the abuser if the situation escalates.
Additionally, it is also a good idea to practice emergency evacuations with your team to ensure that you are able to get you everyone out of harm’s way as quickly and orderly as possible. If you need assistance creating a workplace or domestic violence policy, please contact us.
Jame Geathers is a Human Resources and Operations Professional with more than 12 years of experience in both the corporate and non-profit sectors. Jame has spent her career building and supporting HR infrastructures that have provided her employers and clients with the structure and policies that all start-ups need but owners may not have time to create and implement. For more information please visit the Jame Geathers Consulting website, www.jamegeathers.com or call (706) 496-9691.