Part 3: Recognizing, Responding to Intimate Partner Violence in the Workplace

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It can be difficult to know what to do or how to approach someone who may be experiencing intimate partner violence. We are often worried about saying the wrong thing or overstepping, and that is an absolutely understandable feeling and reaction. One of the most important things you can do is learn to recognize when someone may be experiencing violence and respond and provide support in a compassionate way.

In our previous videos, we’ve discussed at length the dynamics of intimate partner violence, but what are some red flags you as a colleague or a manager may notice? Before we dive in, note that red flags are simply signs that MAY point to intimate partner violence, but not always. Rely on facts and things that you have directly noticed or witnessed, rather than assumptions. First, you know this person well and you have an idea of their typical demeanor while at work. If you notice a drastic change in behavior or demeanor, that might be a signal.

In our last video, we highlighted a local business owner and her experience with supporting an employee experiencing violence. She reported that when a valued employee began missing work and not meeting responsibilities, "something didn’t seem right,” said Stacy Jurado-Miller, co-founder of the Vecino Group and chief mission officer at the time. “In discussing the work situation, we found out she had been struggling with domestic violence at home.” This is an excellent example. If once this person was outgoing and engaged, and has recently become withdrawn and reserved, maybe not participating in meetings or other office activities as they once were, it may point to a bigger issue.

People experiencing violence may also appear agitated, angry, sad, or hypervigilant as a response to the trauma they are experiencing.

Colleagues and supervisors might also notice an increase in personal calls or visits, coupled with increased anxiety around them. Maybe as a close colleague you notice your teammate's partner constantly calling and texting them through the workday, “checking in”.

Physical signs of injury, or frequent “accidental injuries”, especially those with odd excuses, could be a red flag. So if you are a coworker and you suspect that your colleague may be going through this, it is important to respond by simply letting them know you’re concerned about them and are here to listen. Avoid giving advice or talking negatively about their partner, which could potentially make them feel shame for what they are going through.

Your colleague might push back, and that’s okay. Avoid prying and know that simply checking in and letting them know you are concerned can be impactful.Advocacy through Empowerment

Many survivors have little support and knowing that they have a supportive person in their corner when they are ready to talk can be immensely helpful.

If your coworker does disclose to you, it is imperative that you keep any information strictly confidential. Due to the nature of intimate partner violence, it can be potentially very dangerous for a victim to speak out about their experience with the potential that it could make it back to their abusive partner. Remember that it is not your job to fix their situation or force a solution.

Providing a listening ear and validating their experience is the most important thing you can do. You can also refer them to resources that can help like Harmony House, National Hotline, EAP, and human resources. If you’re a supervisor/manager, you can provide the same support we’ve already talked about as well as provide universal information to all employees about the resources that are available through the company and in the community. Supervisors can play a critical role in both preventing and appropriately responding to the impacts of intimate partner violence and stalking in the workplace. However, every potential situation is unique and should be treated as such.

Some victims may not want or need any additional support in relation to their work life. It is important to keep the focus on their workplace needs and not advise the employee about personal safety issues away from work. Discussing potential creative solutions of support and safety with the employee, such as temporarily reassigning workspace or duties, can be helpful. If there is a potential threat to the workplace, for example if the abusive partner is showing up to the workplace and acting aggressive, the employee typically has the greatest insight into the potential perpetrator’s behavior and can provide substantial guidance in protecting themselves and the workplace. Come up with solutions together and do not make any decisions on behalf of the employee, such as calling the police.

To preserve privacy, limit personal questions about the history between the victim and perpetrator to matters that help reveal the potential risk to the employee and workplace.

In addition, it is important not to blame or hold a victim responsible for a perpetrator's threats or violent actions. As we’ve discussed, perpetrators are often making strategic moves in order to sabotage and in turn further control the victim.

Workplaces Respond, a national resource center, has a fantastic video below on strategies that supervisors can utilize when navigating this issue with employees. Workplaces Respond is the national leader on workplace response and support and has a plethora of resources for employers, colleagues, and advocates, many of which we have linked on this page.

Company Resource Downloads

The Impact of Violence on Workplace Communities PDF Violence affects the workplace in a number of ways. Absenteeism, impaired job performance, and loss of experienced employees are only some of the costs that companies bear as a direct result of violence. Download this document to learn more about how violence affects the workplace. 

Model Workplace Policy: Domestic Violence, Sexual Violence and Stalking PDF Not sure how to develop a company policy to show your commitment to a safer and more supportive organization climate? Download this model policy to outline the appropriate measures to prevent and/or address violence. 

Confidentiality is Critical PDF Survivors of domestic and sexual violence and stalking are much more likely to report and seek assistance if they know that their privacy will be respected.  Download to learn more about the policies and procedures you can put in place so employees feel safe disclosing and seeking assistance without fear of reprisal. 

Advocacy Empowerment Wheel PDF  Created by the National Center on Domestic and Sexual Violence, this wheel depicts the major components which engender empowerment through advocacy. Download this one-sheet visual to post in a centralized location for all employees. 

Power and Control Wheel PDF This one-sheet infographic shows the eight primary ways a perpetrator can exert power and control over their victim. Download this PDF to post in a centralized location for all employees.

Incident Prevention and Response Strategies PDF This four page document outlines some employer initiatives to prevent and respond to domestic and sexual violence and stalking impacting the workplace. Download this PDF for safety planning tip, employee-centered threat assessments, and steps to take following an incident. 

Recognizing the Signs of IPV in the Workplace This two-page synopsis of how to identify signs of intimate partner violence in the workplace is a helpful and quick reference tool. Download to share with all employees in a centralized location or include in your company's employee handbook.