Domestic Violence and Your Work Life
Most of us would believe that domestic violence at home and the place in which we work are totally unrelated. However, it is important to remember that home and work issues cannot always be kept separate entirely and domestic violence can impact greatly on the working life of someone who is being abused. It can result in the deterioration of an employee's performance, Increased Absenteeism or poor timekeeping which in turn can threaten both job prospects and job security.
People experiencing domestic violence are especially vulnerable once they attempt to leave their partners and may become intimidated about coming to work or going home from work or even while they are at work, as the abuser knows where they are located. This can give rise to health and safety issues and an increased risk of Workplace Violence.
Quite often, victims are reluctant to discuss this issue with their employer or even their own colleagues but there are some signs which, though not applicable to all, might give indications as to a victim's plight. They might include:
- Turning up for work late or absenteeism without proper explanation
- Uncharacteristic anxiety, depression, distraction or problems with concentration
- Changes in the quality of work for no apparent reason
- Receiving upsetting phone calls, e-mails etc., or being the victim of vandalism or threats
- Obsession with time
- Needing regular time-off for 'appointments'
- Significant change in the employee's dress sense
- Repeated bruising or injuries and explanations that don't seem to fit the injuries
- Increase in hours being worked for no apparent reason
Help and Support for Individuals Experiencing Domestic ViolenceAn individual experiencing domestic violence should be made aware that help is available. If they do not feel comfortable talking to their line manager, then there is always human resources or a welfare officer who can provide information about organisations who can help and offer support. If required, changes can be made to the workplace to make it a safer place for the individual. These changes could include changing work patterns, workload or just providing support. Discussions with the victim should be handled sensitively and in confidence and it is important to remember that the victim knows the abuser and their patterns of behaviour better than anybody so any final 'plan' should reflect their own suggestions.
Some possible adjustments that could be considered:
- If an individual is absent, some line of communication could be established between the individual and their line manager to ensure they are safe
- Identifying a work contact for support and an emergency contact should the organisation be unable to contact the employee
- Allowing the individual to change work patterns or workload and allowing more Flexible Working or special leave to enable practical arrangements such as seeking legal advice, attending counselling, support group meetings or to attend court
- Diverting telephone calls and diverting e-mails to a separate folder
- Alerting reception and security staff if the abuser is known to come to the workplace
- Alerting workplace nurseries if there is a fear of child abduction
- Checking that staff have put in place suitable arrangements for the individual to get to and from work safely
- Allowing the individual to use an assumed name at work, if desired
What can Other Employees do to Help?There are no hard and fast rules about what a colleague should do to help if an individual is the victim of domestic violence. It is important to remember that not only might the individual prefer to keep details of their abuse strictly between themselves and their manager or welfare officer but we are not trained counsellors and may also be putting ourselves at risk if the abuser becomes aware of our support.
However, we can take basic steps to support a colleague who might be the victim of domestic abuse by talking in confidence to the individual, expressing our support and asking if there is anything we can do to help. We should always do this by not applying any pressure to the individual in terms getting information from them but simply letting them tell us only what they want to. We should not be judgemental nor make assumptions about the relationship but just try to be supportive and a good listener.
Employers should also be aware that, as well as looking out for the welfare of the individual, they also have a duty to the safety of the rest of the workforce and if a situation escalated which might cause the abuser to try to gain entry to the workplace, employers should not be afraid call the police if they are concerned that the safety of the workforce is threatened.