Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many are working from home, and for those sharing space with an abusive partner, it means more time spent at risk for abuse. Survivors no longer have hours they can spend away from an abuser. And they may be cut off from support—they might not be able to make phone calls in private or use a computer to connect with resources.
As an employer, there are ways you can (and should) support workers who are facing domestic violence, even when your employees are working remotely.
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Why Your Help is Important
“Employers have a stake in supporting their workers who may be exposed to violence no matter where that occurs,” says Aaron Polkey, staff attorney for outreach and engagement at Futures Without Violence. “Even before the pandemic, [we] spent a lot of time encouraging employers to take an interest in issues workers may be experiencing in what could be considered their private time.”
Adds Polkey, “We bring our whole selves to work. If a colleague is experiencing some sort of violence at home, including emotional distress, that matters to the workplace. You have the opportunity to get them connected to services they might need.”
Employers should have an EAP, or employee assistance program, that provides training to managers and human resources staff in the event an employee report domestic violence.
Watch for These Signs of Trouble
When employees work from home, the opportunity to detect that someone is experiencing violence or control by a partner or family member goes down. “Employers can take special care, checking in with all of their workers to try to detect as best as they can if something might be different,” Polkey says.
Employers or coworkers should watch for:
- Drops in productivity
- Changes in conduct or personality
- A sense that someone is distant, distracted, or depressed
- Missing deadlines, meetings, or calls
“Be open to the possibility that something could be going on in their life. They could need help,” Polkey says.
Create a Reassuring Environment
Employers should recognize that workers might be experiencing domestic violence, and be proactive. “Don’t wait for a sign that someone is experiencing violence,” Polkey says. Employers can send out an email to all employees that says policies pertaining to domestic violence are still in effect and reminding them what resources are available.
Many states have laws that give domestic violence survivors the right to take time off from work so they can attend court or get help dealing with the abuse.
Reaching out to all employees can be reassuring. “The hope is that if someone is experiencing violence and they haven’t manifested signs and are not comfortable reaching out, at least they have the confidence of knowing if they were to reach out the employer is prepared to support them,” Polkey says.
How to Help
If you know an employee is experiencing domestic violence, ask them what they need. “Allow the survivor to have that sense of agency,” Polkey says. “That agency is denied to most survivors.” Taking action beyond what a survivor wants can cause unintended consequences. “You’re not fully aware of all the challenges a survivor experiences,” he says. Only survivors know if it’s safe to call the police, contact an advocate or leave an abuser.
Instead, do your best to provide reasonable accommodations—everything you would offer a person in face-to-face contact:
- Time off to get counseling or support or to focus on child-care needs
- Flexible work schedules so they can focus when distractions aren’t occurring
- Adjustments to their job responsibilities so they can maintain employment
- Scheduling calls or video meetings at times that can help the survivor get away at times when there might be a trigger or flareup
- Signals the survivor can use to indicate something is wrong
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You can also provide connections to coalitions and hotlines where an advocate can help the survivor think through safety planning. You can direct them to more than 800 articles on DomesticShelters.org that can help them recognize and better understand abuse.
“You don’t have to be the expert. You’re trying to make sure the survivor knows there’s help out there,” Polkey says.
Keep in mind that if survivors aren’t meeting workplace standards, it could be because of extenuating circumstances. Taking adverse action could be sentencing them to a worse situation when they need your support.
“There’s no one-size-fits-all solution. Above all, we want to facilitate the survivor getting the help they need and maintaining as much economic security as possible so they aren’t further entrenched in an abusive situation,” says Polkey.
For more tips on what you can do if someone discloses abuse, watch our video “I Know Someone Who Is Being Abused, What Should I Do?”
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