Domestic violence is defined as any form of maltreatment that takes place in a romantic relationship between adults or adolescents. One in every four women will be the victim of domestic violence at least once in their life, as will one in every seven men, according to the CDC. And friends, family, and co-workers often have no clue what happens behind closed doors.
Most people will say that what goes on in a person’s home is nobody else’s business. But do employers have a need to know when an employee is in an abusive relationship? Do employers have a right to know?
At most practices I’ve worked with, it is common for an employee’s spouse or significant other to drop by the office unannounced and make themselves at home. Access is easy, and nobody is surprised or threatened by his/her presence. Unfortunately, to the unknowing office staff, this visit may be for a different reason.
Documentation on cases where violence started in the home and escalated into the workplace with catastrophic outcomes is not difficult to find.
I think of the nursing home in North Carolina, where the husband of an employee came into the facility heavily armed with the intent of shooting his soon-to-be ex-wife. When he realized he couldn’t get to her in the locked memory care unit, he turned his rage on the residents and employees. He killed seven and injured three others.
I think about the beauty salon in Wisconsin. The owner’s husband walked in, killed his wife and two others, and wounded four others before taking his own life.
I think about the manufacturing facility in Indiana. A husband learned that his wife, an employee at the facility, was having an extramarital affair with a co-worker. The husband walked into the plant, shot and killed his wife and her lover, then turned the gun on himself.
There are unfortunately so many more stories, but the point remains the same: The workplace is not the haven of safety we would like to think it is despite how well we think we know our staff.
Thankfully, employers are not helpless. Here are three ways you can promote awareness, gather information, and proactively take steps to minimize the risk of domestic violence at the workplace.
Develop a written workplace domestic violence plan.
There are several federal laws and/or agencies that address workplace violence and domestic violence, including the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the Americans with Disabilities Act, and Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).
In fact, OSHA Guideline 3148, Guideline for the Prevention of Violence for Healthcare and Social Service Workers, requires you to have a written workplace violence prevention plan in place. The plan should encourage workers to come forward and advise management of their situations.
However, from the workers’ perspective, this can be a very private and often embarrassing topic to discuss. They may think that coming forward may be the hardest thing to do, assuming they recognize they are the victim of domestic abuse. It is imperative they know that what they are share will be treated as a confidential manner. Employers must also realize that there are laws that protect employees, and employees must be assured they will not be penalized for seeking assistance in the workplace.
You would be well advised to seek legal advice on developing or amending your plan. The final written plan must then be shared with all practice employees.