Q: We suspect one of our employees may be struggling with issues related to an abusive partner or domestic violence of some sort.
What started as a counseling discussion with a previously solid employee regarding performance concerns touching on a variety of issues—including attendance and productivity—quickly collapsed into an emotional scene where our employee appeared in rapid succession defensive, fearful, secretive, and ultimately resigned to "whatever."
We can't give the employee a free pass not to do her job, we're unsure how to verify what exactly is actually going on, and not even sure if we want to open that door.
This is new for us. We want to help, don’t want to aggravate a bad situation, but we are uncertain how to address it.
What are your suggestions?
A: Sadly, domestic violence appears to be an increasing recognizable presence in our workplaces, not that it’s ever really been contained to our employees' home lives.
Whether driven by need or desire for economic independence, those dealing with the consequences of domestic violence often see the workplace as a refuge, or lifeline of sorts.
However, workplace and individual security is not always a given, and employers are often faced with having to counsel employees, or address coworker concerns, whether it's empathy for the victim/survivor, or feeling fearful for their own well-being as bystanders.
Fortunately for businesses, help is available that does not require expertise as a counselor or therapist.
As one HR professional said, "It’s always important to stay in the proper lane. Don't ignore your ethical, moral and legal responsibilities, but respect your role as the employer."
The Connecticut Coalition Against Domestic Violence is a statewide organization with great expertise in advocacy, training, and facilitating the delivery of life-saving local services to those facing domestic violence, whether at home or at work.
For employers in particular, the coalition has developed a toolkit for Responding to Domestic Violence in the Workplace, including a sample policy, contacts for local resources/hotlines, and onsite training for managers on how to identify signs of trouble, and effectively convey to a willing, or reluctant, employee that their workplace is a healthy, safe place where support may be found.
Coalition representatives can guide managers on how to start that critical conversation with a troubled employee.
There is no one-size-fits-all solution.
Many people are unaware that since 2010, state law requires employers with three or more workers to provide job-protected leave to victims of domestic violence who need time off to seek healthcare, access victims services, find new housing, or attend related court proceedings.
Employers don't need to be experts on the subject, but only a partner in opening the right doors to the experts.
You cannot shut your company doors to this problem, but you can seek information and education.
Get the toolkit and start the process. Build that safety net now before the inevitable crisis happens.
October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. The nationwide 24/7 toll-free domestic violence hotline is 888.774.2900.