Domestic Violence Is Often the Cause of Workplace Violence
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OSHA’s General Duty Clause states that employers “shall furnish to each of his employees employment and a place of employment which are free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm to his employees.”
That includes protection from workplace violence, which is an increasingly serious concern, especially for women who are disproportionately the victims of workplace violence. In 2016 homicide was the ninth leading cause of workplace deaths in the United States. By 2017, homicide was the fourth leading cause of workplace deaths. Behind this grim statistic is an alarming fact: workplace violence is the leading cause of death for women who die in the workplace -- 42 percent of women murdered in the workplace are killed by a family member or domestic partner (only 2 percent of male homicide victims are killed by this demographic).
The picture is even more upsetting, according to a recent study women were the victims of 77 percent of non-lethal assaults in the workplace.
Almost 80 percent of workplace fatalities involve firearms. The motive for the typical single-shooter workplace event (excluding robberies or mass shootings in which the motive is inscrutable) is either a mentally unstable worker whose life is spiralling out of control loses his or her job and returns to avenge a real or imaginary grievance, or more commonly, an estranged spouse or domestic partner who comes to the workplace to kill his or her spouse.
The link with domestic violence.
Why are women disproportionately killed by a family member or a domestic partner? In many cases the women are victims of domestic violence who have fled their abusers. They get protective orders. They put their parents, siblings, friends and even neighbors on full alert, but the one thing they don’t do is inform their employers. Why not inform your employer?
Many victims of domestic violence don’t inform their employers for fear of doing anything that might jeopardize their employment. Others, embarrassed by the abuse, are uncomfortable talking to their employer about something so personal. Still others fear that apprising their employers of the situation may change their employers’ opinion of them and impede their careers.
Employers have a responsibility to protect workers from violence, particularly women since they are far more likely victims than men. What can be done? First, watch for signs an employee might be the victim of domestic abuse. These commonly include bruises on above the wrist or on the forearm consistent with someone being grabbed forcefully, black eyes and bruises on the neck or face. More subtle signs are a change in clothing or makeup to conceal signs of abuse. Don't shrug it off when an employee is uncharacteristically withdrawn or introverted, shows signs of increased drug or alcohol use, or is easily startled or cringes reflexively at sudden movements.
Confront the situation.
You have a legal duty to protect your workers, even from violence. You can’t just ignore the situation and hope it will go away. If you suspect that an employee has been the victim of domestic violence, gently approach the employee and ask some questions:
“I’ve been noticed that you have been coming to work with bruises and I am concerned for your well being, who is hurting you?” This question will often diffuse the excuse making so often used by victims of violence.
“Do you need help getting a protective order?” Many victims of abuse don’t know how to begin the process of getting a protective order, or shy away from letting their employer know that they have one.
“Is the person who hurt you a coworker?”
“I need you to be honest with me so that I can protect not only you, but your coworkers as well, can you please share with me what measures we should take to protect you?”
“Does the person who hurt you have a gun?”
The key here is to make sure that the abused worker doesn’t feel alone without resources to help him or her. Reassure the victim that this doesn’t reflect badly on his or her work performance or jeopardize his or her job.
Alert law enforcement.
A common mistake that employers make is failing to alert law enforcement that the company is at a heightened risk of workplace violence. A short conversation can save the lives of your employees and you.
Not all workplace violence is an outgrowth of domestic violence, but women are at a much higher risk of being harmed and even murdered in the workplace. Now that you know, what will you do to protect them?