As October, Domestic Violence Awareness Month comes to a close, I urge all employers to keep this critical issue top-of-mind for the entire year. Consider these awful statistics. Ten years ago, nearly one in four companies with over 1,000 employees reported at least one incident of domestic violence in the workplace. Today, we haven’t moved the needle forward much. If anything, the risks are worse. On average, more than 10 million men and women are physically abused by an intimate partner in the United States. These victims of intimate partner violence lose eight million days of paid work annually, and as many as 60% of victims lose their jobs due to their abuse.
Because of these facts, we emphasize to our clients that a workplace violence prevention program should be established at every company. When domestic abuse warning signs are ignored or not recognized at work, there can be tragic consequences.
Missing the Signs of Domestic Violence at Work
A few years ago, the deaths of two employees at the University of Maryland St. Joseph Medical Center stunned their colleagues.
As an administrative assistant from the medical center helped her 3-year-old son into her car, she was shot and killed by her estranged husband. Just a few months later, an oncology nurse died after being stabbed by her son who had a history of domestic violence.
While coping with the loss of their co-workers, the staff wondered what they could have done to prevent their deaths. The hospital staff had undergone training to learn how to identify patients experiencing domestic violence, but it had not prepared them to recognize the same signs in their colleagues.
Preventing an Act of Violence Requires Solving the Puzzle
The identification of signs of domestic violence – in its many different forms – is similar to putting together the pieces of a puzzle. Companies may receive an anonymous call or information may come to a supervisor’s attention from a co-worker, spouse or other individual with knowledge of a potential threat or problem.
Each piece of puzzle, by itself, may appear inconsequential or only slightly worrisome. However, when the pieces are assembled – as often occurs in post-event analyses of workplace violence incidents involving domestic violence – a discernable pattern often emerges revealing a threat of violence from the perpetrator’s behaviors and communications.
In many instances, information existed within the workplace that with proper data collection and analysis, might have alerted authorities to the risk of attack posed by a particular subject.
4 Warning Signs that Your Employee Could Be the Victim of Domestic Violence
The following are potential signs you can look for to identify an employee who might be the victim of domestic violence:
- Uncharacteristic lateness, absence, poor concentration or work-related errors.
- Uncharacteristic moodiness, depression or distraction.
- Injuries, especially if the employee tries to conceal them with clothing or unusual amount of makeup.
- Appears to be living in a car or not at home.
If you suspect an employee is exhibiting signs of potential domestic violence, it is important to respect the employee’s privacy, while opening the door to offer help.
However, respecting their privacy may not mean keeping the issue a secret. If you suspect an employee is the victim of domestic violence, contact your human resources representative and security personnel to ensure not only the safety of the victim, but also that of the entire office staff.
If the employee reaches out for help, there are easy steps you can take to help increase their safety including changing their phone number or assigned parking space, distributing a photo of the abuser to security personnel and escorting the employee to their car at the end of the work day.
By increasing the safety of the employee who is suffering from domestic violence, you are also increasing the safety of the entire workforce.
 2006 Bureau of Labor Statistics Study.