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Domestic violence in the workplace

November 9, 2015

What should HR look for and prepare for?

By Anthony Kaylin, courtesy of SBAM Approved Partner ASE 

Domestic violence is unfortunately epidemic in this country, and despite the adjective “domestic,” it affects the workplace more than many employers appreciate. 

The overall statistics are mind-numbing.  According to a 2011 study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly one in five women (18.3%) and one in 71 men (1.4%) in the United States have been raped at some time in their lives.  More than half (51.1%) of female victims of rape reported being raped by an intimate partner and 40.8% by an acquaintance; for male victims more than half (52.4%) reported being raped by an acquaintance and 15.1% by a stranger.

Here is how the workplace comes into the picture:

  • One in six women (16.2%) and one in 19 men (5.2%) in the United States have experienced stalking victimization at some point during their lifetimes. 
  • Two-thirds (66.2%) of female victims of stalking were stalked by a current or former intimate partner, as were 41% of male victims. 
  • Repeatedly receiving unwanted telephone calls, voice, or text messages was the most commonly experienced stalking tactic for both female and male victims of stalking.
  • Between 21-60% of victims of intimate partner violence lose their jobs due to reasons stemming from the abuse.
  • Nearly 75% of abused women were harassed by their partner while at work. The same number report staying with their abuser longer because of economic reasons. Kim Gandy, president and CEO of the National Network to End Domestic Violence states, “We know that economic abuse is frequent in these situations, and abusers often try to get the victim fired in order to increase her financial dependency on him.”

When these situations impact the employee in the workplace, what can the employer do?  In 16 states, there is some form of domestic violence protection laws that address the workplace.  These states are California, Colorado, Connecticut, District of Columbia, Florida, Hawaii, Illinois, Kansas, Maine, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, and Washington. A number of local jurisdictions have additional protections.  And some Victims of Violent Crimes laws also provide for time off for court appearances. 

Michigan has criminal laws on domestic violence, but they do not address the impact of domestic violence in the workplace. Michigan’s laws protect individuals who are abused by present or past spouses, parents of the same child, parents and children, stepparents and stepchildren, foster parents and foster children, or other persons living or formerly living in the same household. They can also be used to get temporary custody, financial support, and other assistance for the abused person.   Michigan also has an anti-stalking law.  Employees who are crime victims are entitled to take unpaid leave, when subpoenaed, to attend judicial proceedings related to the crime. They can also take leave to attend proceedings as victim representatives.

For HR it can be a tough balancing act.  However, if the employee has suffered injury, the employee may be entitled to Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) leave for the injury if the employer is an eligible FMLA employee and the employee meets the eligibility requirements.   President Obama’s Executive Order on Paid Sick Leave for federal contractors and subcontractors specifically provides up to seven days per year paid sick leave (which can accumulate) for victims of domestic violence. 

It is also important, if an employee is subject to harassment or potential violence, for HR to take appropriate measures to make the employee safe while in the workplace. Violence to an employee-victim can spill over to other employees.  HR actions could include informing the police to step up patrols around the workplace and/or hiring additional security for protection. Further, if the employee has an employee assistance program (EAP), HR should refer the employee to the program.

Lost productivity due to domestic violence has been estimated to be approximately $37 billion a year.  At the same time, employers who are willing to think outside the box may find a good pipeline for talent in local shelters. Victims of domestic abuse are looking for the financial wherewithal to free themselves from dependence on their abusers. They can be very reliable employees if they can get basic support—for example, transportation—from their employers or the shelters. The shelters themselves typically provide counseling on how to change behaviors that enable abusers to continue to abuse them.

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