Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 24/3/2018 (806 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
The now well-known #MeToo movement has quickly changed how society and businesses deal with harassment in the workplace. Leaders in every industry sector have been "outed" and dealt with. At the same time, organizations are scrambling to review their human resource policies to ensure the employer and employees are both properly protected. And, I must say, it’s good to see action being taken.
Yet, there’s another social and workplace issue that’s lurking below the headlines but which has always been difficult to manage. This is the issue of employees experiencing domestic violence. Many questions arise about domestic violence including its definition as well as questions regarding just what role and responsibilities the employer has or should have.
Domestic violence is all about the power of one partner against the other. This power relationship creates a pattern of behaviours that range from emotional abuse to verbal threats, coercion and intimidation all the way to physical or sexual assault or even homicide. It can also include controlling the family finances and/or withholding money, requiring a partner to be accountable for every minute of the day and denying any close friendships. No matter what process, the goal is control of the other person.
Domestic violence/abuse can happen to anyone no matter what level of education, economic status, age or race. In fact, reports from the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety suggests that more than one-third of workers have experienced domestic violence.
Yet, what does this have to do with employers? After all, domestic abuse is a private and personal family matter. Not so! It’s also a workplace issue because domestic violence follows the victim to work. What does this look like?
Victims are often late and/or need to leave early. While in the workplace, a victim can receiving threatening phone calls, emails and text messages that upset their flow of thinking and work productivity. They may even receive an unexpected visit from an abuser resulting in a violent confrontation.
Their work performance may be affected because of lack of sleep, and pain and/or suffering from a hidden physical injury, all causing an inability to focus. Since many are afraid to say anything to colleagues, they begin isolating themselves, often causing strained relationships. As well, if the domestic partner is involved in stalking and is frequently scouting out the workplace, there may also be potential danger of harm to others. Then, owners and managers are also often dragged into the drama after receiving anonymous calls reporting some tall tale about their employee and demanding that something be done.
All of this unfortunate behaviour has actual hard costs for the employer. Not only is there reduced productivity, but there are other costs resulting from increased absenteeism, temporary replacement costs, higher risk of accidents, higher employee benefit costs and/or new recruitment costs. Therefore, employers need to be more alert to the potential of domestic abuse as a cause for employee productivity issues.
Up until the past few years, society in general felt that domestic abuse was a personal and private family matter and certainly not the concern of an employer. Thankfully, today, that is not the case. In fact, there are plenty of strategies that employers can implement to protect all of their workers against domestic abuse. The following provides a guide for creating a supportive and accommodating workplace for victims of domestic abuse.
Review policies and procedures — review your HR policies and ensure there is clear direction on how to handle domestic-violence issues within the workplace. Review the Domestic Violence and Stalking Act and its personal-leave provisions and integrate this into your own policies. Review your workplace health and safety policies and ensure continuity between all your policies.
Develop an education program — choose the best option, but find ways to incorporate training into your workplace. This could include staff meetings, special sessions, or lunch and learn events. Help employees understand the facts and figures about domestic violence and train them on how to recognize the signs of domestic violence and how to apply the policy and procedures that have been put into place.
Train managers — by no means is a manager expected to become an expert in domestic violence; however, they will be key to the effective management of this issue in the workplace and must be comfortable talking to a victim about the issue. Ensure managers understand the HR policies and the leave provisions for victims of domestic abuse. Be sure that managers use the highest level of empathy and understanding and avoid making judgment.
Develop a personalized safety plan — should an issue arise, work with the employee to develop an individual safety plan, and ensure the individual is aware of the resources available to them both inside and outside the organization. Where possible, assist the individual to set up a team of support personnel. Review the potential of a flexible work schedule as well as the benefit plan and leave provisions and assist the individual to make the best choice for their situation. Take steps to develop a communication plan and where possible, install panic buttons or personal alarms should this be necessary.
Avoid compassion fatigue — victims of domestic abuse have more than likely been "under the thumb" of their controlling partner for some time. Keep in mind that change of any kind is hard at the best of times, let alone when a victim is attempting to crawl out from under years of crushing abuse. Therefore, do not expect all of your recommendations or steps to safety to be applied immediately. There will always be one step forward and two steps back. As a manager, you will experience your own frustration, and therefore, it is important to find your own personal supports during this challenge.
Dealing with a perpetrator — many small and especially family-owned businesses may be confronted with the situation where the victim and the perpetrator are both employees of the company. This means that the manager must also speak to and confront the employee who is engaging in domestic violence. This is much more challenging and it is suggested that you invite another manager, an HR manager and/or another professional to be in the interview. Talk to the individual and be direct about the reasons why you are having the conversation. Explain your policies, expectations for behaviour and the consequences that might arise. Be sure to document the meeting as it is part of the progressive discipline process.
The Canadian Women’s Foundation reports that 6,000 women and children sleep in shelters on any given night because it isn’t safe at home. Therefore, there’s a good chance at some point, you will encounter an employee who is a victim of domestic violence. As management, you not only need to know your company policies as well as applicable legislation but also you need to know how to provide support to the employee so that the individual is safe and that your work is getting done.
Source: The Facts about Gender Based Violence, Canadian Women’s Foundation; Violence in the Workplace — Domestic Violence, CCOHS; Addressing Domestic Violence in the workplace, A Handbook for Employers, WorkSafe BC
Barbara J. Bowes, FCPHR, CMC, CCP, M.Ed, is president of Legacy Bowes Group. She is also an author of eight books, a professional speaker, executive coach, a book coach and a workshop leader. She can be reached at email@example.com and/or barbarabowes.com.
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