Unfortunately, we live in a society in which domestic violence allegations surface all too often. Claims against Hollywood stars such as Brad Pitt and Johnny Depp along with incidents involving professional athletes, including Ray Rice, Greg Hardy and Jose Reyes, have thrust domestic violence even into the spotlight.
In fact, the National Basketball Association recently announced it will take a fresh look at domestic violence and work to educate players, making sure appropriate measures are taken against those who engage in domestic violence.
With October designated as National Domestic Violence Awareness Month, it’s worth noting that one in every 4 women and one in every 7 men will experience domestic violence over the course of their lifetime. Domestic violence not only impacts the home, but can have a devastating impact on the workplace leading to lower productivity, decreased morale, increased medical costs and increased workplace violence. If an employer or HR professional knows or suspects an employee is a victim of domestic violence, here are some issues to consider:
1. Understand What Domestic Violence Is
In order to protect domestic violence victims it is important for an employer to understand what domestic violence is. Domestic violence is a pattern of behavior used by one person to gain power and control over another person with whom the individual has or had an intimate relationship with. It may include physical violence, sexual violence, emotional and psychological intimidation, mental and verbal abuse, stalking or the use of electronic devices to harass and control another person. Domestic violence can happen to anyone regardless or race, sex, religion, ethnicity or economic status.
2. Be Aware of the Danger Signs
An employer should be aware of signs that an employee is a victim of domestic violence. Such signs may be physical, emotional or evident in the employee’s work product. An employer should be on the lookout for:
• Increased absenteeism or tardiness;
• Lack of concentration;
• Poor work product uncharacteristic of the employee;
• Injuries such as black eyes, bruises and broken bones; and
• Emotional distress, increased stress and depression.
3. Implement Safety Measures
An employer needs to be proactive and take affirmative steps to protect the victim, co-workers and the workplace in general. Under the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA), an employer is required to provide a safe workplace and take steps to minimize risks in workplaces where the risk of violence and personal injury are significant enough to be recognized hazards. Once on notice that an employee is a domestic violence victim, the employer may need to implement additional safety measures to minimize the risk of violence such as:
• Changing locks or key cards;
• Installing panic buttons;
• Hiring additional security guards or escorts for the employee in the building and parking lot;
• Transferring the employee;
• Changing the employee’s hours or providing a flexible schedule; or
• Alerting the police and making the identity of the perpetrator known.
The employer should make sure to consult with the victim and assess the safety risk. Additionally, the employer should evaluate whether it may be necessary to obtain a restraining order if threats from an employee’s abusive partner endanger the workplace, the employee and co-workers.
4. Consider If the Victim Is Legally Protected
Although no federal employment laws specifically provide leave or discrimination protections to domestic violence victims, the EEOC has made clear that victims may be protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act. If the violence causes the individual to suffer from a disability that impacts a major life activity, an employer may need to provide reasonable accommodations under federal law as well as state and local law.
What’s more, a significant number of states now provide some form of leave, either paid or unpaid, to domestic violence victims. Even if not legally required to do so, an employer may want to consider providing a domestic violence victim with leave to attend court hearings or doctors’ appointments. Also, a handful of states including New York now consider domestic violence victims a protected class. Thus, an employer should be careful when making any employment decision and evaluate whether the individual is legally protected.
5. Consult Relevant Policies
Once on notice that an employee is a victim of domestic violence, the employer and HR should consult any relevant workplace policies addressing workplace violence or domestic violence. If no such policies exist, the employer should consider developing and implementing them. The employer should also make clear that hostile, abusive, threatening or violent conduct is against workplace policy and will not be tolerated. The policies should show how the employer will support domestic violence victims and advise them that they will not be penalized for seeking help and that the employer will provide increased security measures.
The employer also should instruct domestic violence victims to report if they have obtained a restraining order against another individual so it can take appropriate measures to keep the workplace safe. Additionally, such policies should let employees know if the employer will provide any leave for domestic violence victims and also alert individuals that they will not face discrimination for stepping forward. These policies should be communicated to all employees and become part of the employee handbook.
6. Provide Training
It is important to train supervisors and managers so they are able to recognize and respond to signs of domestic violence as incidents may jeopardize and endanger the workforce. Supervisors and managers should be trained on encouraging victims to seek help from professional, community resources and law enforcement. Training should also focus on procedures to keep the victim and co-workers safe. Finally, supervisors should receive training on keeping domestic violence matters private and confidential in order to protect the victim.