Within a global population of employers and employees grappling with the COVID-19 pandemic, individuals who must shelter in place with violent partners or other residents are especially vulnerable. Employers have a unique role to play when supporting their workers who may be facing domestic or intimate partner violence.

Domestic Violence + COVID-19 = A Crisis Within a Crisis

As businesses and organizations confront financial, operational and economic challenges, domestic violence advocates across countries, states, cities and communities are sending out distress signals to alert public and private leaders of this crisis within a crisis.

Anita Bhatia, the Deputy Executive Director of the United Nations Women, captured the complexity of this challenge for TIME: “The very technique we are using to protect people from the virus can perversely impact victims of domestic violence.” She added that “while we absolutely support the need to follow these measures of social distancing and isolation, we also recognize that it provides an opportunity for abusers to unleash more violence.”

When the situation at home is volatile, the workplace becomes as a temporary shield from oppressive power dynamics that may involve emotional and physical abuse. Shelter-at-home orders and social isolation offer protection from a virus spread – but increased violence risk as people physically cannot separate from their abusers.

Economic abuse is an equally malicious aspect of domestic and intimate partner violence during this crisis. Many people experiencing violence are dependent on their partners or household members for financial support – or the people perpetrating abuse control the finances. Even if people could isolate elsewhere, they may need to stay in order to weather the pandemic and the associated economic difficulties.

An Unprecedented Threat to Employee Safety

No one expected this unprecedented scenario, and with no clear end in sight, solutions and guidance are needed now. Employers can leverage their resources in order to assist people who may be experiencing domestic or intimate partner violence.

But employers need to carefully consider the limits and cautions of a highly sensitive and personal risk picture.

  • Limits: Many survivors hide their abuse from employers. Even if your organization has a strong domestic violence and intimate partner violence prevention program, you may not be aware of an at-risk employee in need of support or protective measures while isolated with their abuser. This limits an employer’s ability to assist the individual.
  • Cautions: even if you are aware of an at-risk employee, reaching out directly may put them at further risk since many abusers are taking advantage of shelter-in-place orders and isolation to further control people in their household. They might restrict and control email, the phone and other communication, which means that an employer would need to proceed with caution.

3 Safe Options for Organizations

  1. Send a domestic violence-focused email to the entire organization. Employers can share vital information to reach employees who may be coping with domestic or intimate partner violence. This is a way to reach known or unknown employees without singling out victims. Reaching out through communications lets every employee know that they are valued and supported. In the email:
  • Create an awareness-centered message that combines general information with supportive language from your leadership
  • Include a list of potential resources, such as links to hotlines and general guidelines that can help individuals who are experiencing abuse and friends and families of potential survivors
  • Engage outside support for known at-risk employees
  1. If you are aware of an employee at risk, contact domestic violence support services near the employee’s location or local law enforcement. These resources may be able to conduct well-being checks or arrange for safer sheltering options. Engaging outside help can be a lifeline for those who are trapped in isolation.
  2. Engage expert support to adapt your current policies and programs to respond to the uncertainly of violence risk during the pandemic.

Human Resource departments are overwhelmed as they deal with the impacts of COVID-19 on the workforce. And this crisis within a crisis may be slipping through the cracks. Even if you are aware of this crisis and have a workplace violence prevention program in place, this may be the time to pick up the phone and say ‘what should I do.’ Our experts receive calls daily from organizations seeking ways to provide their employees with the right resources and responses to mitigate the risk of violence.

Resources for Employers and Victims

The Workplaces Respond resource library offers tools and valuable guidance on how employers can support their workers who are at risk during stay-at-home orders. Click here for more information.

Several other organizations provide ongoing support and guidance to individuals directly or indirectly dealing with a domestic violence situation.

The National Domestic Violence Hotline

www.thehotline.org

1-800-799-SAFE (7233)

National Center for Victims of Crime

https://victimsofcrime.org/

1-202-467-8700

Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN)

https://www.rainn.org/

1-800-656-HOPE (4673)

Victim Connect Resource Center

https://victimconnect.org/                              

1-855-4-Victim (855-484-2846)

U.S. Department of Justice Map Office on Violence Against Women (OVW) for local resources