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At the next company staff meeting, take a look around the room and consider this fact: One in every four women and one in every nine men are victims of domestic violence.
According to research from the University of Arkansas, the odds are that someone in your workforce is being abused emotionally, mentally or physically. And it is very likely that the abuser is harassing that person at work: 74 percent of women who are victims of domestic violence receive threatening phone calls or visits from their abusers at work.
In a webinar on identifying and protecting employees from domestic violence in the workplace, experts from Allied Barton security services discussed signs that indicate that employees might be suffering at home and precautions that employers can take to safeguard people in the work site.
Ken Bukowski, vice president of health care at Allied Barton, and Bob Chartier, vice president of business development, led the webinar. Domestic violence, they said—whether through physical, emotional or mental abuse—is used to gain and maintain control over the victim. People from all ethnicities, economic statuses, sexual identity and ages can be victims and perpetrators.
Domestic violence leads to increased absenteeism, turnover and health care costs and to decreased productivity. Chartier said the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found domestic violence to cost companies $5.4 billion annually.
Often, victims don’t tell HR or safety teams that they are being abused, Chartier said. But if an employer suspects that an employee might be the victim of domestic abuse and that the abuser might attempt to harm the employee or others at the workplace, the employer must take steps to protect the workforce. Under the general duty clause of the Occupational Safety and Health Act, employers are required to take “feasible steps to minimize risks” in workplaces where “the risk of violence and significant personal injury are significant enough to be ‘recognized hazards,' ” according to a
U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration letter of interpretation.
‘Protect the Company’
“If an employer recognizes an issue, then you should take steps to protect the company,” Chartier said. “Take necessary steps to protect the employees. Report incidents to law enforcement if needed. Discuss the problem with the legal department, HR [and] principals at the organization, and then make a collaborative decision on reasonable next steps.”
Managers and supervisors who suspect an employee might be suffering domestic abuse should look for a pattern of the following behaviors, according to the Allied Barton experts:
Domestic violence can affect others in the workplace, too, Bukowski said. Co-workers might:
Employers might hesitate to approach an employee to discuss abuse, Chartier said, because they don’t know how to help or they want to respect the employee’s privacy. He suggested asking a supervisor or close co-worker to approach the employee and offer support, telling the employee that help is available, that his or her co-workers will believe what he or she has to say, and that no one deserves to be hurt. Be sure not to ask what the employee did that might have instigated the injuries or why the employee doesn't just leave the abuser—those questions can erode trust.
Employers can help by:
If the employee refuses help or denies that any abuse is going on but the employer still suspects that the employee is being abused and that the abuser might come to the workplace, then the employer still has a responsibility to protect the employee and co-workers on the premises, Chartier and Bukowski said.
“If they don’t want assistance, that’s their prerogative,” said Chartier. “The employer can still take reasonable steps and educate the workforce” about possible threats, including telling security officers to be on the lookout for the abuser. “Ultimately, it is up to that individual to take safe steps themselves. You can’t enable everyone. But you can take prudent steps to help.”
Beth Mirza is senior editor for HR News. She can be reached at
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