Encountering domestic violence in the workplace
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Someone you know has probably been the victim of domestic violence.
That’s not an exaggeration or hyperbole. Domestic abuse can happen to anyone, regardless of race, income, education, gender identity, sexual orientation, professional status, disability status, age, or religion.
Need proof? According to information from a Congressional Research Service analysis of the Violence Against Women Act, one in four women and one in seven men in the U.S. will be a victim during her or his lifetime.
That also means a co-worker or employee at your company could very well be living through an abusive relationship right now and you might not even know it. Just because you haven’t yet recognized some of the signs, however, doesn’t mean they’re not there, or that the abuse isn’t having a negative impact on that employee’s work.
The abuse experienced by an employee can impact their work performance, their co-workers, and ultimately the organization as a whole, says Shannon Barry, executive director of Domestic Abuse Intervention Services (DAIS) in Madison. According to a study by the Centers for Disease Control (2003), the impact of domestic violence in the workplace results in 8 million days of lost work each year. This is the equivalent of 32,114 full time jobs.
In a survey of Fortune 1000 companies conducted by Liz Claiborne Inc., 48% of corporate leaders said domestic violence has a harmful effect on their company’s productivity.
“When an individual’s physical and emotional health is impacted by abuse, it can result in poor work performance and an inability to focus,” Barry explains. “When an individual is absent or tardy to work because of abuse, this could negatively impact their interpersonal relationships with co-workers who may have to pick up additional duties. Co-workers may also feel deep concern for the victim and become distracted.
“It benefits a company to support their employees and not ignore these issues.”
Domestic violence is the intentional use of power and control tactics by one intimate partner over the other in order to create and maintain an environment of fear and intimidation.
Contrary to popular myth, domestic violence is not just physical abuse, notes Barry. Domestic violence can take on many forms. Each is marked by a pattern of power and control. Domestic violence can be:
- Physical. This includes (but is not limited to) slapping, hitting, punching, kicking, physical restraint, aggravated assault, withholding medical attention, or forcing someone to take drugs.
- Emotional. This includes (but is not limited to) extreme displays of jealousy and/or possessiveness, intimidation, blaming you for their problems, degrading and/or disrespectful behavior and comments, withholding communication, social isolation (i.e., preventing you from seeing friends or family), and threats of physical or sexual violence.
- Verbal. This includes (but is not limited to) name-calling; yelling; criticizing your appearance, actions, and/or beliefs; humiliating you in public.
- Sexual. This includes (but is not limited to) withholding physical affection, sexual activity following a physically abusive incident, threats of infidelity, coerced sex acts, or rape.
- Economic. This includes (but is not limited to) refusing to share control of family finances; destroying, giving away, or selling your property without your consent; or using money as a tool to control your behavior or get what they want.
Twenty percent of threats to domestic violence victims and 72% of stalking incidents occur at work, potentially putting other employees and customers at risk.
Every abusive relationship is different but you may notice patterns beginning to emerge — not single instances or symptoms — which may lead you to feel concerned, Barry says. These signs, or patterns, can manifest themselves in a variety of different ways:
- Arriving to work late or very early
- Unplanned or increased use of Paid Time Off
- Decreased productivity
- Tension around receiving repeated personal phone calls
- Wearing long sleeves on a hot day or sunglasses inside
- Difficulty in making decisions alone or concentrating on tasks
- Avoiding windows or the main entrance of an office
- Repeated discussion of marital or relationship problems
- Bruises, chronic headaches, abdominal pains, muscle aches
- Vague, non-specific medical complaints
- Sleeping or eating disorders
- Signs of fear, anxiety, depression, or fatigue
- Intense startle reactions