Family and domestic violence (FDV) is often viewed as a private matter that only affects the individuals directly involved. However, FDV has far-reaching impacts that extend into the workplace. Employees who are victims of FDV may experience chronic absenteeism, decreased productivity, and safety concerns that affect their work performance. As a manager, it is important to understand how FDV can manifest in the workplace and learn strategies to support affected employees.
Today we will summarize key points on why FDV is a workplace issue, provide detailed examples, and offer recommendations for managers to address FDV at work.
Understanding How FDV Impacts the Workplace
FDV can negatively impact employees and the workplace in several ways. Victims may have difficulty concentrating, experience fatigue, or require time off to handle legal issues, medical appointments, or find housing solutions. This can lead to absenteeism, tardiness, and reduced quality of work. Victims may also receive harassing phone calls or emails from their abuser at work, causing disruptions. Coworkers may witness aggressive behavior from the abuser dropping by the workplace. Experiencing trauma from FDV causes significant stress that hinders an employee’s optimal performance. FDV also affects the bottom line for employers through lost productivity and increased health care costs.
Some warning signs that an employee may be experiencing FDV include:
Visible bruising or injuries with vague explanations
Changes in job performance - missing deadlines, mistakes, distracted
Frequent absenteeism, especially Monday/Friday or without notice
Isolation from coworkers and declining participation in work events
Receiving excessive personal calls/emails that cause distress
Disruptive visits to the workplace by a partner or family member
A victim of FDV may turn to drugs or alcohol to cope, violating workplace policies. They may also be unable to leave their partner due to financial dependence, which could prevent them from performing work duties like traveling for projects. Managers should be aware of these potential red flags and address changes in behavior or performance issues sensitively. Assuming poor work ethic without considering potential FDV can further isolate an affected employee.
Managers should be informed on laws regarding FDV in the workplace. In the U.S., some key federal and state regulations include:
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act - prohibits employment discrimination based on sex, which includes FDV. Employers can be held liable for allowing a hostile work environment.
The Occupational Safety and Health Act - requires employers to provide a safe workplace. This includes preventing harassment, threats, and harm from perpetrators.
State Domestic Violence Leave Laws - provide job-protected leave for employees to obtain help with FDV situations. Many states have implemented such laws with varying requirements.
State Unemployment Insurance Laws - allow domestic violence victims who voluntarily leave employment for safety reasons to receive unemployment benefits.
Workplace Restraining Orders - available in some states to prohibit abusers from contacting or approaching victims at work. Employers must comply with approved orders.
Understanding relevant laws shows managers how failure to address FDV can lead to liability risks for the company. It also clarifies what protections are legally afforded to victims.
Advocating for Stronger Policies
Managers play a key role in advocating for more robust FDV policies within their organization. Here are some ways managers can promote a supportive workplace:
Review current policies and procedures related to FDV. Are they adequate? Make suggestions on improvements to HR.
Encourage HR to conduct FDV training for all employees to increase awareness. Volunteer to participate.
Ask about implementing leave policies that provide paid time off for addressing FDV issues.
Suggest flexible work arrangements that could help victims safely separate from abusers, such as telecommuting or transfer options.
Share educational resources on FDV with leadership and request communication be sent out on workplace policies.
Organize a fundraiser to support local domestic violence programs. Get leadership to match contributions.
Work with security personnel to develop safety plans, such as alerting staff if an abuser enters premises.
Promote an employee assistance program (EAP) that offers FDV counseling services.
By championing these types of initiatives, managers give victims greater flexibility and resources to seek help while also protecting employer interests.
Fostering a Supportive Work Culture
Managers set the tone for workplace culture. Here are some tips on how to build a supportive team environment:
Train staff on recognizing signs of FDV and appropriate responses. Ensure they know policies around confidentiality and non-discrimination.
Make resources readily available, like posters with the national domestic violence hotline number or listing local services.
If an employee discloses FDV, listen with empathy, reiterate confidentiality, and share company policies on support options. Avoid pressuring them to take specific actions.
In team discussions, use inclusive language like "partner" instead of "husband/wife" and don't make assumptions about relationships.
Intervene sensitively if employees make inappropriate jokes about FDV. Explain the impacts and that humor normalizes violence.
Allow flexible schedules or remote work for employees facing safety issues. Don't require them to disclose personal details.
Adjust performance standards temporarily and avoid penalties against victims. Understand trauma can affect work quality.
Be prepared to report any threats made against employees by outside parties to security staff. Take preventive measures.
Creating a workplace where victims feel safe to get support without judgment is key. FDV should be treated seriously, with the understanding it can happen to anyone.
FDV profoundly impacts employees and places of work. Managers have an important role in addressing this issue by knowing legal obligations, advocating for strong policies, and fostering a supportive culture. Victims' safety and wellbeing should be the top priority. With the right response, workplaces can become part of the solution to ending the cycles of violence instead of ignoring the problem. Implementing best practices around FDV makes for more informed, adaptable, and high-functioning work environments. Above all, displaying compassion and flexibility will allow affected employees to get the help they need to regain their footing, both personally and professionally.
Jonathan H. Westover, PhD is Chief Academic & Learning Officer (HCI Academy); Chair/Professor, Organizational Leadership (UVU); OD Consultant (Human Capital Innovations). Read Jonathan Westover's executive profile here.