Attorney Urges Employers to Address Domestic Violence

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By Genevieve Douglas

Jan. 27 — When it comes to assessing the different types of threats employees might experience in the workplace, domestic violence is a “sticky area” for employers but something that must be addressed, a management attorney told Bloomberg BNA Jan. 26.

“Every employer needs to have an updated, state-of-the-art workplace violence policy,” and it must specifically include domestic violence, said Terri Solomon, shareholder in the New York office of Littler Mendelson. Nearly 40 percent of all workplace homicides of female employees are caused by a relative or domestic partner, she said.

According to Solomon, a domestic violence policy should include the following:

  •  An employee who's been threatened by a spouse or domestic partner needs to come forward and report it to the company. While that may be counterintuitive—the natural instinct may be to keep personal business out of the workplace—the employer has to know in order to take security precautions to protect the employee, co-workers and customers.
  •  An employer should be aware of resources that can support employees in their efforts to find safety from an aggressor. While this may not be required by federal law, many businesses and human resources departments believe it's the right thing to do, Solomon said.
  •  Employers should request that employees in these situations report whether they've obtained a restraining order against a spouse, domestic partner or someone else who has been harassing or threatening them, or if they themselves are subject to a restraining order.
  •  This is a critical part of protecting employees in the workplace, Solomon said, “not only for the safety of the employee who has the restraining order,” but also for the security and front-desk workers at the employer, should an abusive spouse or partner attempt to enter the workplace.
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    Warning Signs

    In a Jan. 21 webinar sponsored by Littler Mendelson, Solomon said most of the millions of assaults by domestic partners or spouses go unreported.

    Employers should be on the lookout for the warning signs of domestic violence so they can be proactive in protecting their employees and themselves, she added. Those signs include:

  •  attendance problems;
  •  changes in job performance, including repetition of errors on work;
  •  unusually quiet behavior or a reluctance to join co-workers for informal activities;
  •  bruises, wearing sunglasses indoors or long sleeves in the heat;
  •  unusual personal phone calls or a strong reaction to calls at work; and
  •  sensitivity to discussing one's home life or other hints of trouble at home. This can include references to a partner's bad moods, anger, temper or substance abuse.
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    Employers also should make employees aware of the company employee assistance program, whether for medical, mental health or other needs, Solomon told Bloomberg BNA.

    Employer Assistance

    Still, Solomon warned that it might be difficult for HR, managers or co-workers to intervene even when the signs of domestic violence are apparent. In many of these instances, she said, the employee denies that it's happening. Unfortunately, that means the individual is held to the same attendance standards and performance standards as everyone else, Solomon said, when an employer could be helping her through the difficult time.

    However, sometimes an employer's assistance isn't enough, Solomon said. In many instances, the cycle of domestic violence means a person will take the appropriate steps to get out of the abusive relationship, only to return to the abuser after a period of time.

    “It’s a very difficult situation, and in my experience, most employers really do want to help,” Solomon said, and a detailed policy is the best way to start.

    To contact the reporter on this story: Genevieve Douglas in Washington at gdouglas@bna.com

    To contact the editor responsible for this story: Simon Nadel at snadel@bna.com