Domestic violence A workplace responsibility

June 29, 1999
Issue: Domestic violence leads to absenteeism, increased health care costs, higher turnover and lower productivity at work. It occasionally brings violence right into the workplace. Can domestic violence problem be handled exclusively by law enforcement and social services agencies?

Answer: Not really. Many experts think the workplace can be an appropriate place to stop domestic violence in its tracks.

What should HR do?
Companies need to make a decision about how they will respond to domestic violence. At the least, employers should consider domestic violence as part of their general workplace violence policies. Employers must have a policy and plan in place to prevent and respond to workplace violence. Beyond that, employers can be involved in combating domestic violence in other ways. They can take additional steps to prevent domestic violence by building awareness, and they can create safety plans to assist employees coping with domestic violence.

Build awareness.
Educate the workforce about domestic violence by, for example, distributing fliers about domestic violence and participating in Work to End Domestic Violence Day on October 1. "Once you begin the education process, people will come forward, and you must be prepared," advises Katherine B. Hazzard, manager of Work/Family Programs at John Hancock Mutual Life Insurance. She, therefore, advises employers to have their policies and procedures in place before they begin awareness activities.

Develop a domestic violence prevention program.
Hazzard advises employers to establish a corporate commitment that assures workers: We will provide a workplace free of threats, fear and violence; and we will respond to threats of potential violence. When developing the prevention program, she believes that managers should be informed that chronic absenteeism or tardiness could indicate a domestic violence problem, and that 30 percent of women are abused for the first time when they are pregnant. Also, there should be several methods for people to seek assistance to accommodate workers’ varying comfort levels.

Commit to creating individual workplace safety plans.
What can employers interested in creating safety plans do? They could protect employees from batterers, help employees find shelter, give employees paid time off for court appearances and provide salary advances to enable employees to move away. Hazzard advises employers to consider these action steps:

  • Save any threatening e-mail or voice mail messages.
  • Involve security officers in the plan, and review parking and escort options.
  • Relocate workspaces.
  • Assist in obtaining restraining orders.
  • Obtain a picture of the perpetrator for reception areas or security checkpoints.
  • Identify an emergency contact person.

Be aware of law and resources.

Extensive information is available concerning domestic violence in the workplace. Here is a very small sample:

State law. All 50 states have enacted antistalking or antiharassment laws that prevent individuals from stalking or harassing others, including in the workplace. Protective orders may be obtained based on these stalking or harassment laws. A few states include the forms in the statutes and do not require a filing fee. Four states (California, Florida, Minnesota and Washington) have enacted laws specifically dealing with workplace violence.

Organizations. Employers Against Domestic Violence creates workplace prevention and awareness programs for employers. The organization can be contacted at (617) 348-3027. The Family Violence Prevention Fund ( created the Work to End Domestic Violence Day.

Federal programs. The federal government’s domestic violence prevention, supported by Vice President Gore, can be seen at the website operated by the Office of Personnel Management ( It contains a form that gives employees telephone numbers that they can use when they need help.

In an effort to eliminate the red tape that can come between protecting victims of domestic violence from their abusers, the Social Security Administration (SSA) has made it easier for victims to change their Social Security numbers (and their identity) after confirmation by a third party, such as a local shelter, treating physician or law enforcement official. The SSA has posted on its Web site ( the steps victims need to take to change their Social Security numbers.

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The information contained in this article is intended to provide useful information on the topic covered, but should not be construed as legal advice or a legal opinion.