I think one of my employees is a victim of domestic violence. What should I do?
Obtain facts, not rumors or gossip. The employee is the best source of information, but consider carefully how you approach him or her.
Use the Interact with a Virtual Employee app on www.workplacesrespond.org to explore a variety of responses to a employee who you suspect is a victim of violence.
Speak to the employee privately, and provide a work-related basis for your inquiry and concern. It is best not to make assumptions about an employee's personal life. For example, state "I have noticed you aren't acting like yourself, is something going on that you would like to talk about?" versus "I think you may be having trouble at home, is that why you have been late to work recently?"
If the employee discloses the violence, ask "How can I help you?"
Convey the message: "You do not deserve this violence" and offer to support the victim's efforts to achieve safety.
Provide a list of community based service organizations to assist the employee. As the employer, it is not your job to be an expert on violence, and you should not counsel the employee about what to do. If you have used the Model Workplace Policy on www.workplacesrespond.org, you may have already identified these resources in your community!
You can offer your employee the use of a private space in the office to make phone calls. Oftentimes their personal phone use may be carefully monitored by their abuser.
Despite your best intentions, your employee may not be willing or able to reach out for help or leave their abusive situation. Getting help or leaving is actually the most dangerous time for the victim because it enrages the perpetrator and may lead to an escalation of abuse. If your employee is resistant, there is probably a good reason. It takes the average domestic violence victim seven attempts to get out of an abusive situation. The best thing you can do is offer yourself and the office as a safe space, so that when the employee is willing or able to get out of the situation, he or she has a place to turn.
- Do be sensitive, non-judgmental, practical, supportive and discrete.
- Do prioritise safety over work efficiency.
- Do allocate some private time and space to listen.
- Do not seek proof of abuse.
- Do not contact the abuser.
- Do not compel a victim to accept support.
- Do not adopt the role of being a social worker yourself.
Signs That an Employee Might Be Experiencing Domestic Violence
- Unexplained injuries
- Decreased productivity
- Frequent lateness or absence
- Changes in behavior
- Excessive phone calls or visits from the intimate partner/family member
- Constant "check-ins" with the intimate partner/family member
Adapted from Responding to Colleagues Experiencing Domestic Abuse: safelives.org.uk.
Online Resources for More Information
- Domestic Violence: What Workplaces Don’t Know Can Hurt Everyone
- Guide for Supervisors: Information for Supervisors on Preventing and Responding to Domestic and Sexual Violence, and Stalking in the Workplace
- Resources for Survivors and Co-workers
- Responding to Colleagues Experiencing Domestic Abuse
- Workplaces Respond to Domestic and Sexual Violence
- Workplace Safety Cards
- Video: Supervisors Can Make a Difference