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Domestic Violence in the Workplace

Did you know that domestic violence is one of the most common forms of workplace violence? And did you also know that we in the healthcare industry experience more incidents of workplace violence than other industries? This topic needs to stay on the front burner for all of us who work in a human services organization.

This post is the second in a 2-part series that focuses on workplace violence, how to reduce risk and protect not only your organization and the people, but the community at large. Click the link to read the first blog post on workplace violence prevention.

These were originally posted last year however they deserve another look. Think of this as a reminder to us all; a booster shot of protection.

A Fictional Depiction…or is it?

Editor’s note: This workplace example may not reflect the type of business you work in. Imagine this happening at your place of work, with one of your co-workers. These types of issues happen every day, in every part of the country, in every type of business.

Mary was so excited about her new job. Her kids have grown and don’t need as much attention. She was excited more about being around other adults than the extra income. At first, her husband expressed disapproval but she convinced him that she would only work at a place with other women.

Mary found a job at a department store at the mall and really loved it.  Her enthusiasm and hard work showed off in the number of sales that she made at the clothing store. Every day, her husband dropped her off, met her for lunch and picked her up for every shift. At first her coworkers thought that she had a very attentive spouse and expressed envy, but Mary just smiled and change the subject.

The Signs are There

One day, while she was helping a man pick out a present for his girlfriend, Mary’s husband showed up unexpectedly. One look at his face and she knew she had to take a break and go talk with him.  After the break, she told her boss that she would have to quit but did not give any reason. Her manager tried to convince her to stay by offering a raise and even a promotion. Mary really liked this job and wanted to stay so she said that she will think about it.

The next day, Mary showed up but obviously something was wrong. She seemed exhausted and hurt but there were no visible injuries. She just explained that she had a long night. The truth was that her husband wanted her to quit because he was concerned about other men flirting with her at the mall.

When a co-worker asked her about the rumors regarding the promotion and her quitting, Mary broke down and started to cry. Because the co-worker was a good listener and had been through a similar experience, Mary finally told somebody about the abusive relationship that she has been in for years. It was with the support of this friend that Mary decided to stay at her job despite the repercussions that she feared.

When Domestic Violence Spills over into the Workplace

That is when the troubles began. Mary’s husband called and texted her numerous times every hour but when she explained that she could not have her cell phone on during work hours, he began calling the store, sometimes dozens of times a day.

Mary also started showing up late for work and requesting to leave early, explaining that she needed to pick up her kids, since her husband could not as planned. Her excellent work performance had also begun to diminish.

Mary no longer wore the happy smile that her colleagues and customers love so much. She continued to talk to her co-worker friend but begged that management not be informed that everything was fine and that they were just going through a rough patch.

But everything was far from okay. On one horrible day, the violence erupted in their home and her husband was arrested for domestic abuse, with Mary obtaining a restraining order. Mary’s life was completely in chaos now. Her job was actually one of the most consistent and peaceful parts of her life and now she really needed the income to survive. Perhaps understanding this, her husband pointedly tried to get her fired. He sent naked pictures of her to all of her associates. Despite the restraining order, he came into the store, causing a scene — but Mary begged her co-workers not to call the police.


How does an Employer Respond?

At this point, Human Resources was contacted. What would your company do? There is the value of keeping a good employee but there is the concern for the safety of the customers and other co-workers. What about the employment law issues that may need to be considered? The threat is real, and firing Mary would be justified, given the recent job performance issues — but is that the safest thing to do? How would that impact other potential issues?

Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in June 2016 and has been updated with new content.

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