Domestic violence: A workplace problem employers can’t ignore

Staggering Statistics:  one in four women and one in ten men in the US experience domestic violence. The many domestic violence cases recently promoted through media channels, has raised awareness to the escalating problem. As an employer, have you reasonably addressed this issue in order to ensure a safe workplace? This is something every employer should explore! BLR; Meagan Newman, JD, and  Seyfarth Shaw give us true insight into the matter and how we can prepare for it.

domestic violence message in botttle

The Ray Rice situation—its prominence in the media, the discussion it has sparked beyond the realm of sports, and the awareness it has raised to the problem of domestic violence—should cause all employers to pause and consider their workplace policies and culture. They should consider whether they are adequately addressing the pernicious problem of domestic violence in order to ensure a safe workplace and to reduce the risk of litigation and other significant costs.

The emotional and financial impact of workplace violence events is undeniable and virtually every employer understands the importance of having an effective workplace violence prevention program—yet, many employers stop short when it comes to domestic violence issues. Domestic violence (or “intimate partner violence”), they might think, is not an employer’s problem. Some employers are worried about intruding into the personal lives of their employees, and this is a valid concern. Others may believe that this is a problem best left to law enforcement or social service agencies.
However, the fact is that domestic violence is a problem that impacts our workplaces and employers should not shy away from addressing it. There are also real risks associated with the way employers react to and treat victims of domestic violence.

Impact on employers

The statistics regarding domestic violence are staggering: in the U.S., one in four women, and one in ten men, has experienced intimate partner violence (defined as threatened, attempted, or completed physical or sexual violence or emotional abuse by a current or former intimate partner), according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Beyond the emotional and physical impact on affected employees, there is significant financial impact. The costs of intimate partner rape, physical assault, and stalking exceed $5.8 billion each year, according to the CDC. The impact on employers includes lower productivity rates and higher absenteeism, tardiness, and job loss rates.

Additionally employers may face higher medical–related costs, higher employee benefit costs and increased insurance premiums. In fact, one study found that $1,775 more is spent by employers on each victim of domestic violence annually.

What laws apply?

  • Occupational safety and health laws generally require employers to provide a workplace that is free from recognized hazards. OSHA has increased its focus on workplace violence, as a recognized hazard, in recent years.
  • Family and medical leave laws may require employers to grant leave to employees who are coping with domestic violence situations.
  • Victim assistance laws may prohibit employers from taking adverse job actions against women who disclose their situation or who take time off from their jobs to attend court appearances.
  • Under certain circumstances, acts of violence against women may constitute a form of harassment, which may violate federal or state anti-discrimination laws.
  • EEOC guidance on the topic discusses the potential for violations Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII) and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) when employers respond inappropriately or irresponsibly with respect to victims of domestic violence.

What can employers do?

  • Provide training to supervisors regarding the signs of domestic violence.
  • Post domestic violence resource information in private areas, such as restrooms.
  • When addressing attendance or performance issues in situations where you suspect domestic violence may be an issue, express concern about an employee’s well-being without specifically mentioning domestic violence and consider mentioning organizational resources such as EAP. HR personnel should not attempt to counsel victims of domestic violence.
  • Address restraining orders in your workplace violence prevention program and ensure there is a mechanism for employees to communicate the terms of any such orders to the employer. In states that permit employers to obtain restraining orders that cover the workplace, evaluate the feasibility of obtaining such an order.
  • Ensure that employees understand the procedures to follow in the event of a violent or potentially violent incident.
  • Where an employee provides information regarding his or her abuser, take appropriate steps to limit or bar the abuser’s access to the workplace.

Additional security steps to consider include: providing an escort to the parking lot, providing a parking space close to the building, offering flexible or varied work hours, removing the employee’s name from the office directory, screening calls and changing the employee’s work e-mail address.

Where an employee is the alleged abuser, carefully consider applicable codes of conduct or applicable employment agreement terms. Evaluate the risk associated with continued employment, disciplinary action or other adverse employment action. Consider the impact upon the broader workplace and address security/safety concerns where needed.


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