Stephanie Dwilson

How to Report Domestic Abuse in the Workplace

Employers can only know so much about what their employees get up to outside of work. As an employer, it can be difficult to know when it’s appropriate to step in — especially for sensitive matters like domestic abuse. However, the effects can be all too damaging, even when employees aren’t at home.

Employees and managers alike should know how to report domestic abuse in the workplace, including ways to react when someone shows evidence of abuse. Here’s how to recognize the signs of domestic violence and what you can do if you notice them in your workplace.

Domestic Abuse at a Glance

About 1 in 5 women and 1 in 7 men have experienced severe physical violence from an intimate partner at some point in their lives. Domestic violence can lead to physical injury or even death if it’s left unaddressed. It can also cause a range of physical and psychiatric symptoms, including heart issues, nervous system conditions, depression, smoking, drinking and post-traumatic stress disorder. About 16% of organizations have had a domestic violence incident over the last five years, and 21% of full-time employed adults were victims of domestic violence at some point in their lives. Out of those, 74% said they were harassed at work. If your business hasn’t faced a domestic violence issue yet, it likely will at some point in the future.

Signs That Someone Is Either Abused or the Abuser

The most well-known indicators of abuse are the physical signs and symptoms, like complaining of constant muscle aches or stomach pains or wearing large accessories and long sleeves on hot days to hide bruises. They may consistently leave work late or early, take more absences, be less productive, have trouble concentrating or make an excessive number of personal calls. These can also be signs of apathy on the job, so it’s important to look for red flags that indicate a recurring pattern and be sensitive about addressing the issue.

Noticing signs that someone is an abuser can be even tougher. Someone who’s an abuser may act jealous and controlling of their spouse, become angry over small problems or constantly shift blame to their spouse. Signs can also include mood swings, breaking possessions, saying cruel things, repeatedly violating company policies and explosive outbursts or paranoid behavior. Remember that people who are abusive at home may extend that violence to the workplace.

Responding to Abuse

Your business should have a formal policy in place for handling domestic or workplace abuse. Include your policy in the employee handbook so that your entire staff is aware of what you expect from them. Consult your HR decision-maker, your attorney and psychologists about what your policy should entail.

Once you have a policy in place, how do you ensure your staff knows how to uphold it? Consider hosting training workshops on how to spot and respond to domestic violence. These sessions should highlight the importance of privacy and confidentiality, such as by educating employees on security procedures that dictate whom to notify if an abuser arrives at the workplace and what information has to stay out of an abuser’s hands. For instance, employees should know to immediately notify security and a manager if a known abuser shows up at work, and to not give out a victim’s contact info.

Provide posters, emails and other communications with information about domestic violence and numbers to call for help. Make sure your employees know that they can ask for help without any concern about negative consequences. If you notice an employee is displaying signs that they’ve experienced abuse, approach them privately. You can ask questions like, “I’ve seen that you’ve had a lot of bruises lately. Is someone hurting you?” Express a desire for honesty so you can help. Just remember, the goal is to help someone feel comfortable about coming forward — not to pressure them. You can’t force someone to open up.

Depending on the situation, you might need to refer the employee to the police for help or inform your security staff about what’s happening. You might also need to take some security steps, like moving an employee’s parking spot, screening their calls or changing their schedule.

Another option is using an employee assistance program (EAP) to create a safer workplace. EAPs offer confidential services — such as financial consulting and legal assistance — that may benefit employees who have experienced domestic violence. Many EAPs have professionals who are trained to offer counseling and safety planning for domestic violence situations.

Don’t wait until a serious domestic violence situation arises. Learn right away how to report domestic abuse and spot the signs to make your business and your employees be safer, now and in the future.

Stay up to date on the latest health care regulations and trends for your small business: Subscribe to our monthly newsletter.