Intimate Partner Violence in the Workplace

Relationship violence often follows employees to work. Their partners may monitor them, constantly calling and texting to check their whereabouts. The abuse can interfere with an employee’s productivity.  Similarly, when an employee monitors or harasses their partner while at work, it can adversely affect their own productivity and job effectiveness.

Guidelines for Supervisors

Supervisors are responsible for maintaining a safe workplace and for ensuring that faculty and staff are aware of BU’s Workplace Violence Prevention Policy and Domestic Violence Leave (Section 317, BU Employee Handbook). They are also in a unique position to observe signs of employees being impacted by relationship violence. Supervisors may feel uncertain about how to talk to an employee about these concerns. In addition to the suggestions below, The FSAO is available to provide confidential consultations to supervisors on how to approach the situation in a way that is respectful of the employee and their right to privacy.

Recognize Signs of Relationship Violence at Work

A first step toward supporting an employee who is experiencing relationship violence is simply to recognize the signs of potential abuse. Remember to look for a pattern over time for a possible link to relationship violence. Indications may include:

  • Unannounced, disruptive, or frequent phone calls, emails, texts or visits from a partner
  • Frequently leaving work early, being late or missing entire days of work
  • Intense startle reactions
  • Signs of fear, anxiety, depression
  • Impaired memory, concentration, or judgment
  • Fluctuating work performance
  • Frequent headaches, abdominal pains, or non-specific medical complaints
  • Bruises and other visible signs of injury

Sexual Misconduct and Title IX

Instances of relationship violence – encompassing behaviors like sexual harassment, dating violence, stalking, and sexual assault – involving members of the campus community, may constitute violations of Title IX, the federal law prohibiting sex-based discrimination. Managers may be required to notify a BU Title IX Coordinator regarding any incidents they become aware of.  Detailed information about reporting obligations can be found in BU’s Sexual Misconduct Policy.

It’s important to note that the FSAO serves as a confidential resource and is not obligated to report suspected Title IX violations to University authorities. FSAO counselors offer confidential consultations to managers and can provide support to employees seeking information or considering reporting to the BU Equal Opportunity Office.

Respond – Address Performance-Related Issues. Employees experiencing relationship violence may exhibit difficulties with performance and attendance. If that is the case, you can address performance-related issues and make appropriate referrals to services that may assist the employee. By focusing on an employee’s behavior at work, you are performing your role as supervisor.

Respect the Employee’s Privacy. Unless an employee discloses their experience of relationship violence, avoid making direct inquiries about known or suspected abuse. People facing relationship violence are often reluctant to discuss their situation, even with close friends and family, and may deny that anything is going on despite seemingly direct evidence. Create a supportive working environment in which employees feel safe talking about the problems they face in their professional and personal lives.

If an employee does disclose that they are experiencing relationship violence, follow BU policies regarding behavior, performance, and safety. You may not be able to keep all information confidential, but only certain people will need to know about the situation. If there is a direct threat to the workplace, tell the employee that you need to take action to protect everyone.

Listen Without Judging. Individuals experiencing relationship violence may internalize their abusers’ negative messages and feel ashamed, inadequate, and afraid of being judged. You may think your employee should take certain actions such as leaving the relationship or getting a restraining order. There are many reasons people stay in abusive relationships including increased danger when attempting to leave.

Don’t Give Advice. Let professionals with experience in relationship violence counsel the employee and develop a safety plan for home and work.

Offer Supportive Messages. Offer supportive messages such as:

  • “I am concerned for your safety.”
  • “I am here if you need help.”
  • “You don’t deserve to be abused.”
  • “You are not alone.”
  • “Help is available.”

Refer: Let the employee know that the FSAO is experienced in providing confidential counseling, safety planning and assistance in accessing resources.

Help The Employee to be Safe at Work.  If you suspect a threat may exist to an employee or co-workers, you must notify the BUPD, regardless of the employee’s wishes. Respect for privacy must be balanced with a need for safety. Decisions regarding who will be informed and what protective steps will be implemented should be made in consultation with appropriate staff. Ask the employee for input on changes that might enhance their safety such as altering schedules, relocating workstations, providing escorts to and from their car, or removing their name and number from automated phone messages and directories.

Give The Employee Time to Improve Performance. You can help employees who are survivors of relationship violence succeed at work by offering them emotional support, resources and by giving them time to improve their performance. Maintaining employment can make the difference between remaining in an abusive situation and deciding to leave and begin a new life.

Adapted from “How to Talk to Someone Who is Being Abused: Guidelines for Supervisors”, courtesy of the Blue Cross Blue Shield of California Foundation Against Violence Employer Outreach Program.

Training Video for Supervisors

Sexual Misconduct and Title IX Violations at Boston University