Safety for domestic violence victims is an issue that continues to reverberate through all segments of society. Almost two decades ago, I engaged in some of the most rewarding work of my career as a member of a task force dedicated to improving the City of Chicago’s response to domestic violence.

Working with the City of Chicago, Cook County and various key stakeholder and advocacy groups, we redesigned the city’s institutional processes and approaches to domestic violence. This work was predicated on awareness, informed response policies and subsequent engagement that prioritized victim safety and perpetrator accountability through a layered web of services and support. Much of the foundation laid by this task force so many years ago remains in place today and continues to help domestic violence survivors remain safe and find support – in their community, with their employers and with the systems that are supposed to help keep them safe while holding abusers accountable.

Orders of Protection and an Employer’s Rights

Personally, for me, one of the great aspects of working at Hillard Heintze is continuing to have a direct impact in areas such as domestic violence, as we help clients create safe workplaces for their employees and other constituencies. Recently I had the opportunity to speak with a terrific group of co-presenters at a Building Owners and Managers Association (BOMA) of Chicago Preparedness Committee Open Meeting addressing workplace violence. Our discussion focused on orders of protection in the workplace, specifically under the Workplace Violence Prevention Act (WVPA), which took effect on January 1, 2014.

Under Illinois law, an employer may seek an order of protection to prohibit further violence or threats of violence by a person if: (1) the employee has suffered unlawful violence or credible threat of violence from the person; and (2) the unlawful violence has been carried out at the employee’s place of work or the credible threat of violence can reasonably be construed to be carried out at the employee’s place of work by the person. The employer may seek a protective order by filing an affidavit showing that “an act of violence occurred at the employer’s place of business or that there was a credible threat of violence and there was opportunity to prevent it.”

Orders of Protection and Formal Threat Assessments

Like any action that seeks legal protection as the result of interpersonal violence, the decision to obtain an order should not be made independently of a comprehensive threat assessment. What is the risk facing the company in light of the threatened or actual violence, present and future? Additionally, how does this action impact the employees, including those subject to violence by the perpetrator? By itself, an order of protection is just a piece of paper; it’s one element of a strategic approach to prevention which typically requires more information and evaluation of risk that can only come from a formal threat assessment.

When the risk of workplace violence arises from a domestic violence situation, workplace responses and orders of protection require nuanced approaches that take into account the requirements and rights of both employer and employee. For example, actions and decisions made without considering the employee at risk in a domestic violence situation may further aggravate the individual’s safety. Further, as actions are taken, the ability to maintain the employee’s privacy in light of the situation must be prioritized. Finally, ensuring a safe workplace is a major priority for most employers. Research regarding orders of protection has identified that they are often associated within increased violence – triggering either the behavior which drove the party to obtain the order or a violent response to the order itself, as abusers react to the loss of their authority and control over the other party.

October is Domestic Violence Awareness month, and the growth of awareness on this issue contributes to safety for so many, as does the ongoing work of my colleagues at Hillard Heintze. For a vigorous and enlightening debate on how employers can help support and advocate for safe workplaces, please join my colleagues, JoAnn Ugolini and Marcia Thompson, as they examine this complex issue. Register now for Shining a Light on the Crucial Link Between Domestic Violence and Workplace Violence.