In response to a rash of mass shootings in schools, grocery stores and other public places, Congress recently passed legislation signed by President Joe Biden that enhances gun safety reforms. Tucked into the new federal law is a provision that closes what's known as the "boyfriend loophole." The law may reduce the incidence of workplace violence committed by domestic abusers who pursue their partners at their workplaces.
A previously enacted federal law prohibited people convicted of domestic abuse from buying or owning guns, but only if an abuser was married to, lived with or had a child with the abuse victim. That law still permitted domestic abusers who had dated an abuse victim to buy or own a gun. The new law now bans gun purchases or ownership by anyone convicted of abusing somebody they dated.
Closing the "boyfriend loophole" potentially could reduce bloodshed associated with domestic abusers and their victims. Between 2003 and 2014, nearly half of the 10,018 women murdered in the U.S. were killed by a former or current intimate partner, according to Georgetown University's law school. In most of these cases, a gun was the murder weapon.
Sadly, gun violence involving domestic abusers and their victims too often creeps into the workplace. Will the newly enacted Bipartisan Safer Communities Act help curb this type of violence? Experts are divided on just how much of an effect the law will have on workplace violence carried out by gun-toting domestic abusers.
Law professor Jody Madeira, co-director of the Center for Law, Society & Culture at Indiana University's Maurer School of Law and co-editor of the soon-to-be-published book The Second Amendment: Gun Rights and Regulation (Foundation Press), believes the new gun reform law will likely reduce workplace violence committed by dating partners who have been convicted of domestic violence.
Madeira noted that nearly one-fourth of workplace violence incidents are linked to personal relationships, with women far more likely to be victimized than men. From 1997 to 2009, she said, 321 women died as a result of workplace violence initiated by former or current partners, as opposed to 38 men.
"Laws that keep guns away from domestically violent individuals are associated with lower rates of violence against women and of intimate-partner homicides," Madeira said. "For this reason, many states already barred those convicted of domestic violence from possessing or carrying firearms."
Steve Albrecht said he doubts the new gun reform law will make much difference when it comes to workplace violence. Albrecht, a consultant on the prevention of workplace and school violence, is the co-author of Ticking Bombs: Defusing Violence in the Workplace (Irwin Professional Pubs, 1994).
Albrecht explained that gun-wielding perpetrators of workplace violence are driven by their desire for revenge, their fragile mental health and their narcissism. "They aren't deterred by gun possession laws, the need for a permitting process or concealed carry regulations," he said.
Tom Miller, co-founder and CEO of ClearForce, a company that specializes in detecting and rooting out misconduct and high-risk behavior in the workplace, agreed with Madeira. He said he thinks the gun reform law "will add another level of protection" against workplace violence, particularly if it stems from domestic abuse.
"However, the work toward a safe and secure organizational environment doesn't stop there. All forms of security require a layered solution approach; no single solution or law will eliminate risk," Miller said.
So, what should an employer do to add layers of protection to curb workplace violence tied to domestic abusers? Madeira, Albrecht and Miller offered the following suggestions:
- Protect employees who disclose domestic abuse to their co-workers or managers. Domestic abusers can harm a victim's work reputation by causing absenteeism and tardiness that can lead to resignations or even terminations, Madeira said. Formal and informal support of a domestic abuse victim can help that victim keep working. In addition, state law may allow an employer to pursue or help an employee obtain an emergency risk protection order against a domestic abuser.
- Review guns-at-work policies. In some states, Madeira said, an employer may be able to ban guns from a workplace. In other states, they can enforce laws that limit where workers can keep firearms (such as in the trunk of an employee's car in the workplace parking area, rather than in the employee's office).
- Promote a team approach. HR professionals should work in tandem with other workplace departments—such as security, risk management, legal, IT and facilities management—to address workplace violence caused by domestic abusers, Albrecht said. In addition, HR professionals should familiarize themselves with local resources, including law enforcement agencies, shelters for abuse victims and victims' advocacy groups, in case an abused employee needs assistance.
- Set up a system for formal reporting of domestic abuse. Miller said a workplace reporting system for domestic abuse can head off safety risks before they arise. This sort of secure, confidential system should shield victims' identities and eliminate bias, he said.
"Having a proactive automated system in place can uncover misconduct in a timely manner, whether from an abusive work relationship or a hostile work environment, rather than carrying out reactive and ineffective safety measures. Whistleblower and ethics hotlines are not sufficient," Miller said.
John Egan is a freelance writer based in Austin, Texas.