Interpersonal Violence in the Workplace

Relationship violence frequently follows victims to work. An estimated 18,700 incidents of workplace violence in the U.S. per year are related to dating or domestic violence. Perpetrators may monitor their victims, calling and texting relentlessly to check on their whereabouts. The psychological toll of the abuse may interfere with productivity. Perpetrators’ effectiveness on the job may also be impaired if they use work time and resources to monitor, harass and threaten victims.

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 related leave policy. They are also in a unique position to observe signs that their employees are either victims or perpetrators of interpersonal violence. Supervisors may feel uncertain about how to talk to an employee about these concerns. In addition to the suggestions below, The Faculty & Staff Assistance Office is available to provide confidential consultation to supervisors regarding how to address the situation in a way that is respectful of employees’ right to privacy.

Recognize: Signs of Domestic Violence at Work

A first step toward supporting an abused coworker is simply to recognize the signs potential of domestic violence. Remember to look for a pattern over time for a possible link to domestic violence. Indications may include:

  • Unannounced, disruptive or frequent phone calls, emails, texts or visits from partners
  • 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

Respond: Address Performance-Related Issues

An abused employee’s performance and attendance may suffer. 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 tells you about the abuse, do not make direct inquiries about known or suspected abuse. Victims of domestic 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.

Keep it Confidential. Tell only those with a “need to know.” Follow BU policies regarding behavior, performance, and safety issues. You may not be able to keep 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. People experiencing domestic violence may believe 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 the increase in danger when they try to leave.

Don’t Give Advice. Let professionals with experience in domestic violence counsel your 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 BU’s Faculty & Staff Assistance Office has experience providing confidential counseling, safety planning and assistance accessing resources.

Help Your Employee to be Safe at Work. If you suspect a threat may exist to the employee or to co-workers you must notify the BUPD regardless of the wishes of the abused employee. Respect for privacy can be balanced with a need for safety and decisions regarding who will be informed and what protective steps will be implemented should be made in consultation with appropriate staff. Ask the victim what changes might help make her (or him) safer. Options may include changing schedules, relocating workstations, providing escorts to and from their cars, removing their names and numbers from automated phone messages and directories.

Give an Abused Employee Time to Improve Performance. You can help abused employees perform by offering them emotional support, resources and by giving them time to improve any deficiencies. Maintaining employment may make a difference between staying in an abusive situation and making a decision 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 Shield of California Foundation Against Violence Employer Outreach Program.

Additional Information and Resources

How to Talk With Someone Who is Being Abused: Guidelines for Coworkers (BCBS/FVPF)

BU Domestic Violence Leave Flyer