Domestic violence is not just a private family problem. It can impact the workplace, sometimes with devastating results. To help deal with the problem, the U.S. Department of Labor recently released a new report outlining how you can protect yourself and your employees in these situations.
A Tragic and Expensive Problem
According to the Department, every year thousands of women-and some men-are attacked at work by a current or former spouse or lover. These incidents often end in tragedy, with the employee involved being injured or even killed. Innocent co-workers are also at risk for harm.
Domestic violence that occurs away from the workplace can also take a heavy toll on your organization. The Labor Department estimates the problem costs employers about $3-5 billion every year. That’s because most of the approximately 4 million annual domestic abuse victims have increased health- care costs and difficulties at work, including high rates of absenteeism, tardiness and decreased performance and productivity.
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How to Protect Your Workplace
All employers are potentially at risk for problems stemming from domestic violence, so it’s important to be prepared to handle these situations.
- Educate employees. Get the word out that workers should notify you of domestic violence problems, including threats, so you can take steps to beef up security. Let employees know that you can refer them to resources for domestic violence victims, such as hotlines to emergency services and shelters.
- Respond swiftly to known problems. If you learn someone is being threatened or you have reason to believe a domestic situation may spill over into the workplace, it’s critical to take action to ensure the safety of the employee and co-workers. Steps you can take include limiting access to work areas, hiring security guards, installing security systems and video cameras, and changing codes for security doors and alarms.
You are also legally required by Cal/OSHA to provide a safe workplace for your employees. So even if there’s no immediate threat of violence, it’s a good idea to evaluate and plan ahead how you could secure your workplace if the need arises. (See CEA September 1994 for details on preventing workplace violence in general.)
- Use caution before terminating someone who reports a domestic violence risk. Some employers respond to these problems by simply terminating the worker involved. But it’s illegal to fire someone solely because they complain about a workplace health or safety hazard. And it’s entirely possible that discharging someone who reports a domestic threat that could affect workplace safety would be considered illegal retaliation, although the courts have not ruled on the issue.
- Consider getting a court order. You can seek a temporary restraining order on behalf of an employee who either has suffered violence at work or has received a credible threat of violence that reasonably could be carried out at work. (See CEA November 1994 for details.)
- Determine whether your EAP program covers domestic violence. A strong employee assistance program with staff trained to deal with domestic violence can help lessen the impact of the problem at work.
- Be flexible. If a victim is having problems at work, such as absenteeism or poor performance, consider alternatives to termination. For example, you might be able to help the situation by relocating the person to another geographic area or referring the employee to counseling. Other alternatives might be to assign a safer parking space or arrange escorts to and from cars or public transit. Also, if you’re covered by the family leave laws, a victim who has a serious health condition arising from the violence would probably qualify for the leave if the laws’ other requirements are met.
For More Information
For more details about domestic violence in the workplace, contact the National Workplace Resource Center on Domestic Violence at (415) 252-8900. For a free copy of the Department of Labor Report, “Domestic Violence: A Workplace Issue,” call (415) 975-4750.