You don’t often think about domestic violence impacting your workplace but the effects are real. Not just for the victim/employee but also for your business and other employees, triggering an employer’s duty to provide a safe physical workplace. Domestic violence can also disrupt and threaten your business operations. These concerns are equally important when employees are working remotely.
While you must not ask an employee if they are experiencing domestic violence, employers should demonstrate an understanding of this issue and a willingness to provide resources and support, in a limited context. I say limited because employers should treat this issue as they would an employee’s medical condition, providing a safety net but not asking invasive questions.
The NJ SAFE Act provides employees with 20 unpaid days off to address treatment, counseling, court, support issues related to a domestic violence incident. The statute does not require employers to ask for proof that the day off is related to a DV issue but if you do, be extremely careful about what you ask for and how you protect the privacy of that information.
You should also make sure that your employees are aware of the resources available to them through your health insurance provider, such as Employee Assistance Programs (EAP). Often, these programs provide counseling and treatment which would otherwise not be available to the employee. When employers support of domestic violence charities and organizations and make licenses for VictimsVoice available without question, you are sending a message that your employees’ well-being is important. This message may make all the difference for a DV victim whose only safe refuge, both physical and emotional, is their workplace.
Employers should also recognize that with remote working arrangements required by the Covid-19 Pandemic, the victim is now confined to the home with their harasser which will surely affect their morale and productivity. Now, your company data is also vulnerable should this employee have access to sensitive and financial information.
Towards this end, make sure that your employees are properly trained on safety protocols, password storage, access to financial information etc. You must ensure that employees are not downloading HIPAA and sensitive information on their home devices or allowing company-issued devices to be used by other family members. You should also consider using VPNs for safe transmission of protected data. Above all, you must have these safety protocols in place as a normal part of your operations rather than implementing them once an issue arises.
Managers and senior staff should also be trained on how to address irate and harassing emails and phone calls from the victim’s abuser; employers must have an internal SOP to handle this issue, evaluate the threat and determine when the employee and law enforcement need to be involved in the discussion. Your front desk staff must be trained not to answer seemingly simple questions like “Is employee X in at work today?”, “When will she be in next”, “What’s the best time to reach her”, “Which office is she working in today” etc.
The Bottomline: Anticipate and plan for your worst case scenarios so that you are able to weather the storm when it arises. Domestic violence can and does impact your workplace and it is a mistake not to plan accordingly. Trying to figure out your workplace safety protocols in the midst of a crisis is likely to end badly for all concerned.