Recognizing Signs of Domestic Violence at Work


Domestic violence

October is Domestic Violence Awareness month. Unless you or someone close to you has experienced domestic violence, you might think of it as something that only impacts people at home. Unfortunately, abuse is often subtle and happening to people of all socio-economic classes, ages, races, genders, etc.

There’s a fine line to employers getting involved in the personal lives of employees. But often domestic abuse doesn’t stay within the confines of a home’s walls. And the sheer number of people impacted by domestic violence are staggering: Nearly one in three women and one in seven men are victims of domestic violence during their lifetime. Even more numbing is that 53% of people know someone who has been a victim of abuse.

Domestic violence harms the health and well-being of your employees. And it can hurt a company’s bottom line through lost productivity and missed work.

Domestic Violence Network statistics show that 74% of women who are abused were harassed by their abuser while on the job. More than half were late for work at least five times per month because of abuse. Nearly 30% had to leave work early at least five days a month. And 54% missed three or more full days of work per month due to abuse.

Abuse is estimated to cost employers over $5.8 billion a year; $4.1 billion of that is directly related to medical expenses.

In a workforce of 50 people, approximately 27 people know someone impacted by domestic violence. If the employee mix is equal (25 female and 25 male), approximately eight females and three males are victims of abuse. And the U.S. Department of Justice statistics estimate that four women and one man per day are killed by abuse from an intimate partner.

Central Indiana statistics are sobering: agencies received 22,758 calls in 2016 related to domestic violence, according to the State of Domestic Violence Report.

Employers should understand that this violence won’t always be obvious. Abused employees will not always come to work with bruises or other injuries; if they do, it’s a safe bet that they’ve been emotionally abused for much longer.

Here are common abuse signs to watch for in employees:

  • Increase in absenteeism and/or tardiness: abusers may start fights prior to work, take vehicles to prevent the abused individual from getting to work, etc. Or the absences may be due to injuries if the abuse has reached the physical stage
  • Increased distraction: someone may suffer from poor concentration, anxiety and isolation. They may always keep a cell phone nearby and answer it quickly and then appear nervous or upset after answering the call or reading the text
  • Changes in social interaction: employees may stop doing things socially with co-workers. They may stop going to lunch with others and may avoid certain people
  • Increased or frequent visits by the abuser: visits alone aren’t enough to indicate something is wrong, but if the individual has negative reactions when the abuser is there or right after, there could be a problem

What are employers able to do for employees they suspect may be in an abusive situation? If you suspect your employee is a victim of abuse, the first thing you can do is offer a safe place for discussion.

If you suspect an employee is being abused, show kindness in your approach. Ask the employee if there is anything that you can help with and avoid telling him or her you think that abuse is occurring. If the employee is showing up with physical evidence of abuse, an employer should ask, “Is someone hurting you?”

If the answer is no, accept it. The employee may not be ready to share the abuse or may not yet see themselves as victims. Let the employee know you care and that you are there to help if you can. Refer them to a local domestic violence network or shelter if necessary.

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