When Intimate Partner Violence Comes to Work: What Employers Need to Know During COVID-19

Intimate partner violence is a human rights violation that cuts across all social and economic classes, cultures, races, sexual orientation, and religious and political persuasions. Understanding how to respond and work towards preventing and ultimately eradicating Intimate partner violence when it comes to the workplace must be a priority for all companies as eliminating IPV is a pre-requisite to achieving the 2030 Agenda.

How does intimate partner violence show up in the workplace?

Victims and survivors of IPV may experience abusive behaviors from their partner even when at work. The ways IPV shows up may vary, but common experiences include:

WORKPLACE DISRUPTIONS

These are any behaviors that delay a person from being able to arrive at work on time or at all, and often occur at home. Workplace disruptions may include:

  • Assaulting a partner so they have visible injuries and are unlikely to appear at work

  • Hiding a partner's car keys, wallet, work computer, or other necessary items to commute to work or do their job.

  • Creating conflict in the home that leaves the partner too stressed or upset to arrive at work on time or at all.

  • Behaving in a threatening manner towards children or pets so the victim is afraid to leave them alone with their partner.

ON-THE-JOB HARASSMENT, THREATS, AND STALKING

These behaviors include any harassment, threats, or stalking that occurs while the victim is at work. In cases of IPV, these behaviors are specifically committed by an intimate partner and intentionally committed while the victim is at work. Some examples include:

  • Stalking a partner to their place of employment, either physically or digitally.

  • Threatening to share personal or intimate photos or videos with the partner's coworkers or supervisor.

  • Creating disruptions during the partner's workday that results in their attention being diverted to the abusive partner.

WORKPLACE VIOLENCE

A study by the University of Kentucky found that 20% of women fatally injured at work were harmed by an abusive partner. That same study found 40% of women who had filed for a restraining order in the previous 12 months reported being harassed, either in person or over the phone, by their partner while at work. A partner may show up to the victim's place of work with the intention of harming the, or with threatening and harassing behaviors that escalate.

REDUCED PRODUCTIVITY

IPV has the potential to have a negative impact on a survivor's productivity. This can show up in a variety of ways, including:

  • Time spent managing a partner's behaviors.

  • Arriving late and leaving early as a result of their partner's behaviors.

  • Time off work as a result of injuries.

  • Distractions from the stress and trauma created from managing an abusive partner.

  • Time off work for court and legal hearings.

MEDICAL, ADMINISTRATIVE, AND LIABILITY COSTS

Employers face increased medical, administrative, and liability costs when employees experience IPV. The increased absenteeism, tardiness, and turnover have a financial toll on companies. If a victim or other employees are harmed by an act of workplace violence triggered by IPV a company may also be liable.

Safety Planning with Survivors in the Workplace

CREATE A CULTURE OF CARE

Survivors who feel supported by their colleagues are more likely to disclose experiencing IPV. By building a work culture that values people for more than their productivity and encourages people to build relationships with each other, employers may encourage victims to disclose critical safety information that could help protect the victim and all employees.

DEVELOP A WORKPLACE POLICY

Many employers report not having a policy to address IPV in the workplace, which often results in reactive and punitive actions against the victim. A ​policy will provide employers with a guide on how to address issues of IPV in a supportive, collaborative, safe, and effective manner.

ENSURE PHYSICAL SAFETY MEASURES ARE PRESENT

Survivors and victims of IPV safety plan on an ongoing basis, which includes assessing their physical environment for ways that will reduce risk and promote safety. Things such as locks on office doors, well-lit hallways and parking lots, and office spaces that are not near windows can increase a survivor's physical safety while at work.

TAKE RESTRAINING ORDERS SERIOUSLY

If a survivor is able to obtain a restraining or protection order, they are often advised by domestic violence advocates to provide a copy to their employers. Many survivors report being afraid to do so for fear that it won't be taken seriously, or that they'll be punished for it. If a survivor provides a copy of a restraining order, it's critical employers take it seriously and support survivors in enforcing it while at work.

NOTIFY WORKPLACE OR BUILDING SECURITY 

If a survivor discloses abuse to their employer, one option available is to notify workplace or building security. This should be done with the survivor's consent and in partnership with the survivor. 

WORK WITH SURVIVORS TO ENSURE PERFORMANCE GOALS ARE MET

IPV can impact a survivor's work performance, especially if time is taken off for court or legal proceedings. Being proactive in discussing this concerns and developing a plan will help to ensure both survivors and their employer's have professional goals met.

MAKE REASONABLE ACCOMMODATIONS

Supporting survivors and victims through reasonable accommodations is a critical aspect of comprehensive safety planning. This allows survivors to prioritize their safety so that in the long-term they are able to commit fully to other aspects of their lives. Some reasonable accommodations may include:

  • Flexing work schedules to accommodate appointments resulting from the abuse

  • Allowing survivors to work from home if necessary for their safety

  • Collaborating with survivors to address any performance issues that may arise, and develop a plan to address them.

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