Just like that, domestic violence can surface in your workplace.

We received a call from a troubled HR Director last week. The partner of an employee stalked her in the parking lot and threatened to come into the office and “take care of things once and for all.” The employee was ashamed and the whole staff, terrified.

Domestic violence is often considered a tragic but personal problem that does not affect the workplace. Many victims suffer silently and function at work as best they can. But current research indicates that domestic violence has strong ramifications in our workplaces, schools, and communities. It produces a costly, risky work environment and threatens the safety of all employees.

The American Institute on Domestic Violence estimates that employers lose between $3 and $5 billion annually for increased medical costs associated with battered workers, and $100 million in lost wages, sick leave and absenteeism. Homicide is the leading cause of death to women in the workplace. Partners and boyfriends commit 13,000 acts of violence against women in the workplace every year. Such attacks increase the threat of violence for all workers. These statistics only begin to express the devastation to families. While 95% of violence victims are female, males do suffer battering and abuse.

Certain employee behaviors could indicate domestic violence including: visible physical injuries, stress-related illnesses; marital or family problems; depression, absenteeism, lateness, and leaving work early; difficulty concentrating, repeating errors, and slower work pace; unusual or excessive number of phone calls from family members, or disruptive personal visits to the workplace from employee’s present or former partner or spouse.

Intervention, training & referrals

Because the employee may feel shame and fear about the situation, intervention by the company or co-worker is tricky. Companies can construct a Domestic Violence Policy to protect victims and send a clear message to the abuser that assaults in the workplace will not be tolerated.

Organizations can also provide training to raise awareness of the problem. Concerned co-workers or supervisors can approach the employee respectfully, in private and ask direct questions such as “is someone hurting you?” Respect the victim’s privacy and comfort level with the intervention, don’t be pushy. Be prepared with phone numbers of professional community resources. Know how to get help in a crisis Offer to accompany the person to make the first phone call; it may be the significant first step. Strong support and understanding is better than advice.

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