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Domestic Violence and the Workplace

According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, one in four women and one in seven men will experience some form of domestic violence over their lifetime. While this devastating and highly personal form of abuse usually happens at home, it also has an undeniable impact on the workplace, manifesting itself in the form of:

  • Absenteeism. Victims may be too physically injured or emotionally distraught to come to work.
  • Presenteeism. If a victim does come in, they may be too upset to work productively.
  • Depression. Victims of domestic violence are often depressed about their situation, making it difficult for them to work at full capacity.

In situations where the abuser is the employee, there are legitimate concerns about the safety of other workers and, if they are publicly exposed as a batterer, their employer’s reputation and public image can be affected.

What Do the Statistics Say?

  • 1 in 4 women and 1 in 7 men over the age of 18 in the United States have been battered by an intimate partner in their lifetime. (National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey, 2010 Summary Report)
  • 74% of battered women reported being harassed by their intimate partner at work, causing 56% of them to come in late and 28% to leave early at least five times a month.
  • Battered women in the U.S. lose almost 8 million days of work each year because of domestic violence. That’s the equivalent of over 32,000 full-time jobs.
  • 44% of executives surveyed for a Blue Shield study confirmed that that domestic violence increases their health care costs. In a similar survey conducted by Liz Claiborne, Inc., 47% of senior executives said that domestic violence harmed their company’s productivity
  • A 2006 study carried out U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics found that close to 25% of all larger private industry companies reported at least one domestic violence incident in the past year.
  • The American Institute on Domestic Violence reported that 94% of security directors from over 200 national employers believed that domestic violence extending into the workplace was a serious safety, and security concern.

Domestic violence abusers may also experience low productivity and extended absences from the workplace, both of which can impact their company’s bottom line. A pilot study carried out by the Maine Department of Labor reported that:

  • 42% were regularly late for work
  • 78% use company resources such as computers and phones to contact their victim.
  • 74% could easily go to their victim’s workplace, and 21% did so despite the presence of a no-contact order.
  • 48% had problems concentrating at work, and 19% either experienced workplace accidents or came close to doing so.

These statistics all suggest that in medium to large companies, domestic violence personally affects its workforce.

Domestic Violence is a Workplace Issue

No employer today can afford to regard domestic abuse as a ‘private matter’ or something that should only be handled by law enforcement. The statistics above prove that abusers can and do stalk their partners at work, and if the victim has tried to leave them, they know they can find him or her at the workplace and harm them. At the very least, the victim’s productivity can be impacted by absenteeism and stress.

Employers can no longer assume that employees can separate their personal and professional lives, especially where domestic violence is concerned. Threats, harassment, and physical injuries all affect performance, which in turn hurts productivity.  Measures like the following can be more cost-effective than leaving a battered employee to deal with their own problems.

  • Have a policy for flex hours so that an employee can take time off to meet with the police, see their doctor, find emergency accommodation, and attend court.
  • Heighten workplace safety by making it difficult for abusers to access their victims. This can be in the form of visitor sign-in policies, securing access points, and implementing a crisis plan.
  • Ensure that the company offers a robust Employee Assistance Program (EAP) and healthcare benefits that include coverage for mental health issues.
  • Have zero tolerance for employees engaging in abusive behavior toward friends, family, and other workers, both inside and outside the workplace.

Domestic violence must be seen as a workplace health and safety issue with the ability to affect a company and its bottom line. Establishing firm policies, creating and implementing procedures to deal with domestic abuse, and ensuring that resources are in place to support victims can save both the business and a person’s life.

Domestic Violence and Employer Legal Liability

Aside from financial, safety and ethical concerns, domestic violence can be a liability issue for employers. For example:

  • Occupational safety and health laws require employers to maintain a safe workplace for their workers, which can also mean keeping it free of violence.
  • Federal and state laws may require employers to allow employees who are dealing with domestic violence to take time off to address it. In Massachusetts, companies with over 50 employees must provide up to 15 days of leave from the workplace (during any 12-month period) to employees who are victims of abusive behavior such as domestic violence, sexual assault, and criminal stalking.
  • Many victim support laws prevent employers from making adverse employment decisions against workers who reveal that they are being abused and need time off to attend court.
  • In some cases, acts of violence against an employee could be treated as sexual harassment and therefore a violation of state and federal anti-discrimination laws. This can be the case if their abuser creates a hostile work environment for them and the employer knowingly refrains from reasonable safety measures, such as notifying security.

By taking steps to actively mitigate the operational, financial, and legal risks created by domestic violence, an employer will create a work environment that is safer for both current and potential victims and send the message that everyone in the community has a role to play in helping to prevent domestic violence.