Desk Reference for Recognizing and Responding to Domestic Violence in the Workplace
This Desk Reference is designed to help you assess for domestic violence and provide appropriate assistance and referral for victims. The information applies to all victims regardless of their gender or the gender of their partner, including gay, lesbian and transgender victims and men who are abused by their female partners.
Possible Indicators: Victims of domestic violence may seek assistance for a wide variety of problems other than the violence itself. Possible indicators of domestic violence include:
- Visible Physical Injuries including bruises, lacerations, burns, human bite marks, and fractures (especially of the eyes, nose, teeth and jaw); injuries during pregnancy, miscarriage or premature births; injuries that are inconsistent with explanation; multiple injuries in different stages of healing; unexplained delay in seeking medical treatment for injuries;
- Stress-Related Illnesses including headaches, backaches, chronic pain, gastrointestinal disorders, sleep disorders, eating disorders, fatigue, anxiety-related conditions such as heart palpitations, hyperventilation and panic attacks;
- Marital or Family Problems;
- Alcohol or Other Addictions;
- Depression, Suicidal Thoughts or Attempts;
- Absenteeism, Lateness and Leaving Work Early;
- Changes in Job Performance such as difficulty concentrating, repeating errors and slower work pace;
- Unusual or Excessive Number of Phone Calls from family members, strong reactions to these calls; and
- Disruptive Personal Visits to the workplace from employee's present or former partner or spouse.
Interviewing Guidelines: The best way to identify whether an employee is a victim of domestic violence is to ask. Recommended guidelines for assessing for domestic violence include:
- Interview Employee Alone and in a private setting;
- Inform Employee of Extent and Limits of Confidentiality;
- Use Direct Observations in framing questions, e.g., "You seem very concerned that your partner will find out that you've been to see me. Are you afraid of your partner?"
- Universalize, i.e., "Lots of employees I see who miss a lot of work are having problems at home. Is someone or something at home making it difficult for you to come to work?"
- Ask Questions About All Forms of Coercive Behavior including physical, emotional, psychological, and economic abuse; and
- Be Direct, Specific and Concrete and avoid using jargon or labels. Don't ask, "Are you a victim of domestic violence?" or "Are you being battered?" Do ask, "Has your partner ever hit you or threatened to hit you?" or "Has your partner ever made threats or done other things that make you afraid?"
If an Employee Answers "yes" to the assessment questions, the following steps are suggested:
- Encourage the Employee to Talk About It.
- "Would you like to talk about what has happened to you?"
- "How do you feel about it?"
- "How can I help?"
- Listen Non-Judgmentally and Actively. If you actively listen, ask clarifying questions, and avoid making judgments and giving advice, you will most likely learn directly from the employee what it is needed.
- Validate the Experience. Victims of domestic violence are frequently not believed or not taken seriously, and the fear they report is minimized. You can express support through simple statements, as appropriate, such as:
- "You are not alone. This happens to lots of people."
- "You are not to blame. It's not your fault."
- "You are not crazy. Your feelings are normal and reasonable for someone who's been through what you've been through."
- "It sounds like you have good reason to be afraid."
- "Help is available. I'd like to help if I can."
- Explore Options and Make Appropriate Referrals.
- Elicit the options that have already been identified;
- Share information to expand the set of available options;
- Understand the analysis of the risks attached to various options;
- Offer new information and support; and
- Help with safety planning and problem-solving.
- Resources and Options May Include:
- Personal Resources: Friends, Family Members, Neighbors, and Other Social Supports;
- Workplace Resources: Security, Human Resources, Supervisor, and/or Co-Workers;
- Domestic Violence Services: Emergency Shelter, 24-Hour Hotline, and Full Range of Non-Residential Services; and
- Legal Resources: Police, Family Court, and Criminal Court.
- Resources Should Not include:
- Marriage Counseling
- Couples or Family Counseling
Services that require victims to participate in joint sessions with their partners increase the victim's risk of physical and emotional harm and are therefore not recommended for dealing with domestic violence.
- Provide Support for the Employee's Decisions. Don't judge the success of your intervention by the employee's action and remember that there are risks attached to every decision a victim makes. Be patient and respectful of a victim's decisions, even if you don't agree.
If an Employee Answers "no" to the assessment questions, but there are clear indicators of domestic violence, you can:
- Let the employee know that domestic violence happens to lots of people and that help is available if it is ever needed.
- Encourage the employee to take the local hotline number in case he or she or anyone they know might need it.
If you need help through a professional consultation, call your local domestic violence program or:
The New York State Domestic and Sexual Violence Hotline
Elder Abuse Information Line