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How Companies Can Support Victims of Domestic Violence

October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month

A woman sitting in an office looking at her laptop.

​About 1 in 4 women and 1 in 9 men experience domestic violence, also called intimate partner violence (IPV), during their lifetime, according to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence. IPV includes committing physical violence, psychological bullying or stalking by an intimate partner.

Domestic violence isn't limited to the home. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention indicated that IPV can lead to injuries that keep employees from working, negatively affect productivity, and cause other effects that impact the worker's career and cost companies money. Victims of IPV often silently carry the physical and emotional scars into work, compromising their ability to communicate with colleagues.

"Two-thirds of victims lose their jobs due to reasons stemming from their abuse," said Gail Tiburzi Buck, co-founder of executive recruitment firm nextOpp Search in Charleston, S.C. "Domestic abuse still lives in the shadows, and there are so many misconceptions and stigmas attached to it."

Domestic Violence Worsened During Pandemic

A report by the American Journal of Emergency Medicine found that IPV increased by nearly 33 percent globally during the initial months of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The National Commission on COVID-19 and Criminal Justice indicated an increase in the U.S. by more than 8 percent following the imposition of lockdown orders during 2020. Reports have shown that remote workers are at increased risk of being abused by a partner.

"In a post-COVID world where remote work is so common, now more than ever, companies need to educate their HR departments and, by proxy, their employees, so they can recognize the signs and respond appropriately when someone is in danger," Buck said.

Signs of Abuse Differ Among Remote and Onsite Workers

According to the Society for Human Resource Management, many onsite workers who are abused:

  • Wear long sleeves or sunglasses at inappropriate times to conceal injuries.
  • Startle easily.
  • Arrive early or late to work.
  • Appear fatigued.
  • Exhibit fear, anxiety or depression.
  • Have unexplained injuries.
  • Take more unplanned time off.

Remote employees who experience IPV might exhibit unexplained changes in behavior such as an unreasonable refusal to participate in remote team videoconferencing, according to security organization ASIS International in Alexandria, Va. Their productivity may also rapidly decline.

Are Companies Required to Provide PTO?

Buck said companies should strongly consider offering time off for workers who are being abused to seek medical attention or mental health services, secure housing, relocate, or attend court proceedings related to the abuse. Some employers may choose to make this paid time off (PTO).

"On top of such voluntary PTO programs offered by employers, many states have laws that require employers to offer time off to employees who are the victims of domestic violence or sexual violence," said Andrew Gordon, an attorney with the law firm Hinshaw & Culbertson LLP in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

For example, employers in Florida with 50 or more workers must allow employees to request and take up to three days of leave from work in any 12-month period if the employee or family or household member is the victim of domestic violence or sexual violence.

It is at the discretion of the company to decide whether this leave is with or without pay, Gordon noted.

"In some situations, employees may be able to utilize the Family and Medical Leave Act [FMLA] when impacted by domestic violence or sexual violence, depending on whether the nature of their or their family members' injuries from the domestic violence or sexual violence constitutes a 'serious health condition' under the FMLA," he added. "However, such leave is unpaid under the FMLA."

What to Do When Abuser Enters Workplace

Domestic abusers often control all aspects of their partner's life. In some instances, the abuser shows up to the workplace to see the employee. HR leaders should have a plan in place to contact law enforcement to handle the abuser.

Sydney Conrad, director of education and training for IPV awareness company My Sister's House in Charleston, S.C., said companies should inform other employees of a potentially unsafe person coming onsite. The alleged abuser should not be named. Only a description should be used to protect the victim's privacy.

HR professionals can also offer other forms of support for the victim of abuse.

"[Support] can include but is not limited to changing the victim's work schedule and/or work location, alerting all staff of the abuser's description and vehicle should they come onsite, having security or law enforcement patrolling the property periodically, and more," Conrad said.

Organizations should also direct these workers to local organizations who specialize in supporting victims of domestic violence. The National Domestic Violence Hotline also provides resources that individuals and companies can leverage.


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