Law & Legal & Attorney Family Law

Domestic Violence Goes to Work - Helping the Abused Employee

When the economy dips, domestic violence often increases, sometimes spilling over into the workplace.
This is the second of two articles on preventing DV from hitting your office.
Why an Employee May Tell You About Domestic Violence Employees have rights in the workplace when they are being abused at home.
Laws may differ among the States; this article reflects New York State policies.
In general, however, managers should be prepared for letters that request special accommodation (such as changes in parking space or working schedule), and for the conversations they may need to have with the employee.
Men or women may be subject to domestic violence; most cases, however, involve women.
Consequently, I refer in this article to the victim as "she".
Speaking with an Employee about Domestic Violence What do you say when an employee tells you that she is being abused? There are no hard and fast rules, except one:Do not tell the victim what you think she should do to make her relationship work.
She is in that relationship; you are not.
The following general guidelines may facilitate the conversation.
Be there for her.
  • Have your calls held, and ask not to be disturbed during the conversation.
    Such a simple request will help her feel that you are taking the matter seriously.
Recognize her needs for privacy and safety.
  • Confirm that the conversation will remain confidential.
    And keep it confidential.
  • If you are a male, ask her if she wants to continue the conversation with the door closed but with a friend of her choosing present.
    She deserves privacy for the conversation, but does not need the threatening feeling of being closed in with another man.
  • Some offices have glass conference rooms which may be useful for situations such as this.
Reassure her that she cannot be fired if her partner is abusing her, nor will it change her insurance coverage.
Assume that she has already given this matter a great deal of thought, and tried more techniques than you could probably think of.
  • Glib comments like "so why don't you leave him" or "have you tried couples counseling" are grossly inappropriate at this stage.
    (Educational programs about domestic violence will help other employees and managers alike to understand why the answer is not straightforward.
Tell her you don't need to know details she doesn't want to tell you, but that you are here to help her feel as safe and work as effectively as she can.
  • Ask her how you can help.
  • Be aware that some people may tell you almost nothing about their personal situation, while others may release a flood.
    Everyone is different.
  • Let her speak at her own pace, but try to look engaged and caring, even if your natural response is to pull away and be distant.
    This conversation is about her, not about you.
  • Answer her questions as clearly and precisely as you can.
    Do not offer your opinion.
  • Know where your policy statement or manual dealing with domestic violence is.
    Have numbers for your Employee Assistance Program (EAP) and local domestic violence assistance group available.
If she is alluding vaguely to abuse, you can ask her if she feels safe at home and at work.
You may want to ask specifically about work factors only:
  • Does her commute, including the walk from the parking lot, feel safe?
  • Is she receiving phone calls that are frightening or upsetting?
  • Is she concerned about unwanted visitors?
You can refer to your policy manual if you have one; or to a workplace safety plan such as the one found the Legal Momentum organization website, or you can brainstorm solutions together.
Affirm that you value her as an employee.
Try to find specific examples of things she has done well recently.
  • This is important, especially if she has been late or absent, or her work has been falling off because of the tensions she is experiencing at home.
    She is almost certainly being criticized or made to feel incompetent; your kind words may help rebuild a badly shattered self-esteem.
Be gracious, not abrupt, in closing.
  • Reiterate that the conversation will remain confidential.
  • Remind her that you are available if she needs further information or support, or has any ideas that will help her be safe and productive.
  • Thank her for trusting you with such sensitive information.

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