Domestic and intimate partner violence can feel like an issue that’s entirely separate from the workplace – a challenge that individuals face in their homes and personal lives that isn’t connected to their employers.
But in practice, an employee suffering physical or sexual abuse in their personal lives may struggle in the workplace as well. According to the Society for Human Resource Management, absenteeism due to domestic violence costs US employers nearly $1.8 billion per year.
How can employers protect their employees from abuse and support their efforts to remain healthy, productive members of the team? Here are a few ways:
• Proactively acknowledge the domestic and intimate partner violence epidemic. Employers can educate themselves on the complexity of domestic and intimate partner violence (this open letter by RALIANCE Executive Director Ebony Tucker is a good place to start), and use their internal communications channels to demonstrate awareness of the challenges survivors face and that they stand ready to support employees in need. The outreach can include information about local resources or organizations that help survivors. This communication can enable employees to feel more comfortable seeking help – whether from their employers or from one of the provided resources.
• Instruct managers to check in with employees. While employers should not pose direct questions about abuse, managers can use regular check-ins with employees to see how they are doing and if there is any way they can support them. Ideally, this will create an open channel of communication, so employees feel comfortable raising their needs. These types of check-ins are especially important during the pandemic; according to UN Women, the COVID-19 pandemic has led to a surge in domestic violence, as survivors are less likely to visit their workplaces on a regular basis.
• Learn to recognize the signs of abuse. While it is not always obvious when an employee might be surviving domestic or intimate partner violence, training your managers to recognize potential warning signs can help to signal when a check-in might be necessary. Workplaces Respond provides a detailed overview of potential signs of abuse, as well as some proposed steps for intervening.
• Develop compassionate policies. While legal protections for intimate partner violence survivors can vary by state, developing a policy with the needs of survivors in mind is the best way to ensure they remain productive employees in the long term. For example, a survivor may need temporary time away from the workplace to identify a safe living situation, seek counseling, or participate in legal proceedings. At the same time, they might worry that coming forward to seek accommodations will compromise their privacy. Creating and communicating a clear privacy protocol can help alleviate these concerns.
Taking these steps will help employers preserve a productive workforce while also acting in the best interests of survivors.
RALIANCE provides consulting, assessment, and employee development services to help build more equitable workplace cultures and create environments free from sexual harassment, misconduct and abuse. We stand ready to support your organization’s goals – contact us today at [email protected] to get started.