An estimated 2 million employees each year are victims of workplace or domestic violence, according to OSHA. Employers have a responsibility to prevent and mitigate issues of workplace violence, which also include domestic violence. These issues can cause problems that organizations can’t afford to ignore if not prevented or managed.
Workplace violence is defined by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) as any physical assault, threatening behavior, or verbal abuse that occurs in a work setting. Violence can also include intimidation, harassment, or damaging acts to an organization’s resources or capabilities. The majority of workplace violence (85%) occurs by criminal intent by individuals that have no affiliation with the business, according to the NIOSH. Under 15% of incidents are perpetrated by other employees, clients/customers, or individuals with a relationship to an employee in the business. This suggests that many incidents of workplace violence are caused by individuals outside of the business. In light of these facts, here are a few ways you can mitigate and manage the effects of workplace violence:
1. Create and enforce a policy.
Combating workplace violence begins with making it a priority for your business to keep employees and your resources safe, expressing zero-tolerance for violent words and acts, and having a plan and procedure in place when violent acts do happen. Employees and supervisors also need to be trained and educated on how to deal with potentially violent situations as part of enforcing your policy.
2. Respond to threats.
Take reasonable steps to protect your workforce and respond to threats, reports of threats, and suspicious activity whether these come in the form of actual observable behaviors or oral/written remarks made to the target or indirectly made to another individual. Evaluate every threat seriously and investigate it.
3. Assess your outside risks.
Evaluate your external risks, such as public access to your building, how visitors are screened, lighting in parking lots, entry-systems, and emergency procedures. Consider offering escort service to the parking lot, providing video surveillance, hiring security guards, or using metal detectors to catch suspicious risks before they enter your workplace.
4. Address internal conflicts.
You may not be able to always control violent acts that come from outside of your workplace, but you do have the means to control what happens in your workplace. Ensure that conflicts between employees do not get out of hand and are promptly addressed and mediated if necessary. Don’t take assaults or harassment lightly. Train employees on how to control hostile and aggressive behavior if you have had incidents in the past. Teach supervisors how to remain calm in emotional situations and regain control of the environment.
Domestic violence can also hurt your workplace when violence at home spills over into work. This form of violence is often a hidden workplace threat which affects mostly women. In fact, nearly 1 in 3 females are physically or sexually abused by a husband or boyfriend at least one time in their lives according to the Commonwealth Fund, suggesting that domestic violence is likely affecting or has affected at least one of your employees. Unfortunately, victims of domestic violence are frequently afraid to reveal these issues to their employers, but by not doing so can pose serious threats to the organization. Here are some ways you can mitigate and manage the effects of domestic violence on your workplace:
1. Recognize the signs.
If the situation is not disclosed to you, it’s important to recognize the signs of a problem, especially if it is impeding performance, productivity, or the employee’s well-being. Watch for signs of withdrawal behavior, low self esteem, oversensitivity, performance or attitude shifts, unusually fearful or anxious responses to situations, and frequent injuries or scars as possible signs of a problem at home. There may also be more overt signs of abuse, such as indications of unhealthy possessiveness or harassment by a significant other.
2. Respond to the employee.
Express concern about your observations in private with the employee, but don’t directly assume that there is a problem. Rather, keep your dialogue open-ended and unassuming (i.e. “I’ve noticed a change in your behavior lately…”). Reassure the employee that the conversation will be confidential and that you are there to help and support them and ensure their safety and well-being. You may also consider working out a temporary flexible work arrangement with the employee to help her cope with her situation.
3. Redirect the employee to people that can help.
Referring employees to proper resources is essential. These resources may include employee assistance programs, personal or medical leave, counselors and medical providers, shelters, or legal resources (such as law enforcement) to help employees get the assistance they need. If the situation poses immediate risks to your employee or organization, you may consider centralizing their phone calls or changing their phone number, moving the employee’s desk or workspace, providing temporary housing, or creating a contingency plan in the event of an emergency. Employers can find other information here to help them deal with domestic violence’s effects on their workplace.
4. Prevent it from happening.
Like workplace violence, the best way to stop domestic violence is to prevent it in the first place by educating employees on ways to protect themselves in violent situations and keep themselves safe either through training, educational literature, or other means. Creating a domestic violence policy is also another way you can proactively ensure employees’ safety. Such a policy may include:
- A definition of domestic violence
- Promise of confidentiality
- Who employees should tell if they are being abused
- How absences and/or temporary relocation will be handled
- If and when employees can use leave for domestic violence
- Certification process for leave (if needed or required)
- Process by which employees can obtain services or assistance via the company
Like it or not and as uncomfortable as these issues may be, workplace and domestic violence are key issues that could or may already be affecting your workforce, their productivity, performance, and safety. The best way to stop workplace or domestic violence is to prevent it in the first place. This starts with identifying risks, implementing policies and procedures, and providing education and the resources that your employees can access to help themselves stay safe. There’s no greater gift you can provide your employees than the ability to keep themselves safe this holiday season. You may just save a life.
ERC’s Preferred Partner, Ease@Work, provides employee assistance services to companies throughout Ohio with employees throughout the United States. Their services provide counseling and critical incident support to your employees in times of need. Any ERC member is offered one free management consultation regarding how to handle a sensitive employee issue.