Stephanie Dwilson

How to Support Employees Struggling With Domestic Violence

Domestic violence is pervasive. In fact, 1 in every 4 women and 1 in every 10 men will experience domestic violence at some point in their lives, according to the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM). This means there’s a fair chance one or more of your employees face violence or abuse at home.

As an employer, it can be difficult to know how to help. But understanding how to identify domestic violence, approach employees you’re concerned about and leverage resources like an employee assistance program will go a long way toward offering much-needed support.

How to Identify Domestic Violence

There are a number of signs that members of your staff may be facing domestic violence, according to the Cambridge Public Health Department. Physical symptoms — from bruises to frequent headaches, stomach pains, muscle aches and vague medical complaints in general — may be the simplest to identify. Employees may wear long sleeves on hot days or sunglasses indoors to hide bruises.

Psychological symptoms to be aware of include expressions of fear, anxiety or depression; and intensely startled reactions to unexpected movements or sounds.

Other indicators may overlap with signs that your employees are slacking off or simply don’t care about their jobs, so be sure not to jump to conclusions either way. Habits to look out for include:

  • Coming to work late or leaving early
  • Unplanned or increased absenteeism
  • Diminished productivity
  • Trouble concentrating on tasks or making decisions
  • Excessive personal calls or discussion of relationship issues

With all these signs, remember to look for a recurring pattern rather than responding to a one-off symptom, since any one of the red flags above could be associated with a range of other issues.

How to Train Employees to Respond to Domestic Violence

Before you talk to an employee, it’s important to have a policy in place for what to do. SHRM suggests that this policy incorporate input from human resources, legal, medical and psychological experts.

In accordance with the dictates of your official procedure, train supervisors to recognize the signs of domestic violence. Bring in a professional to lead this training, making sure it emphasizes protecting employees’ privacy.

Training should also address security procedures, for example not accidentally giving victims’ information to abusers, and what to do if an abuser arrives at the workplace. Supervisors should also be given a point of contact if they have any questions.

How to Approach an Employee Who May Be Facing Domestic Violence

Once you’ve decided there’s cause for concern, approach the employee in a private and appropriate way. By helping your employee, you could be preventing a workplace tragedy in the future. As Kim Wells, executive director of the Corporate Alliance to End Partner Violence, told SHRM: “Domestic violence has no boundaries, and doesn’t stay at home.”

Remember that not everyone will respond well to being approached. Some will be relieved to talk to you, while others may deny your concerns or become afraid. Of course, you can’t force an employee to disclose or discuss domestic violence. But at minimum you can assure them that your workplace is a safe environment where they will be helped. You can further promote this understanding by incorporating domestic violence education into your wellness materials, new employee orientations and internal newsletters.

When employees come to you about domestic violence, communicate that you believe them; emphasize that you want to help, not judge; ask them what you can do to help them feel safer; and guide them to a professional. Encourage them to save any threatening text messages, emails or voicemails.

The Cambridge Public Health Department also suggests some specific steps that can help employees facing domestic violence feel safer. These may include:

  • Moving their workstations away from windows or entrances
  • Giving them a parking spot near the door or walking them to their cars
  • Screening their calls
  • Removing their names from public directories
  • Reworking their schedules as needed
  • Allowing them to seek help during the workday
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Leveraging an Employee Assistance Program

An employee assistance program (EAP) can be a key element in creating a safer workplace and helping employees. EAPs are confidential services typically offered by third parties, such as health insurance carriers, that help staff deal with a variety of issues. An EAP offers a host of private services, from stress management to financial and legal assistance.

EAPs have professionals who can help your employees with counseling and safety planning related to domestic violence. You can also consult the EAP yourself for advice on what to do. EAPs are a great solution because they usually have counselors specifically trained on domestic violence — plus the service is free for your employees. If your staff member isn’t comfortable getting in touch with the EAP, you can suggest a local domestic violence support agency.

But don’t just wait until something happens to contact your EAP. Consult them now for additional advice on how to identify the signs of domestic abuse and how to set up a policies and procedures that help your staff feel cared for and secure.

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