Managing Domestic Violence in a Work at Home World
The Struggle Can Be Real
While many people regard working from home as a goal for overall work-life balance, those who find themselves actually doing their work from home report higher levels of stress, according to a 2017 study by the United Nations. This news may come as a shock to many people who consider a work-from-home lifestyle to be one that is less stressful and marked with more personal freedom…especially when the work-from-home lifestyle isn’t voluntary and you add the stresses of a COVID-19 pandemic and the rest of your family also being confined to the home. “Over the past few weeks, as the economic and social pressures and fear have grown, we have seen a horrifying surge in domestic violence,” said United Nations Secretary General, Antonio Guterres.
It is absolutely necessary for those working from home to take care of their emotional and mental well-being for their sake and for the sake of their families. This means being able to identify when that status quo begins to break down and shift. Do you and the employees you are tasked with protecting know what warning signs to look for, not only in themselves, but in family members as well? If these signs manifest, do you and your employees know what can be done about it?
Most relationships have a degree of “stress fractures” that may be coped with by tolerance or having the ability to “take a break” or “get away”. But with quarantines and household confinement becoming the new temporary norm for most, these safeguards may no longer be feasible. This places a greater risk for destructive behavior to manifest and negatively impact loved ones. Humans also have a need for the feeling of privacy and safety and may be placed in a situation where privacy has to be discussed and even negotiated. Most individuals can tolerate certain levels of discomfort or tension because there is a foreseeable end to the tension, whether it’s the end of a conversation, end of a work day, end of a project, there is an end in sight. While the same is still possible during home confinement in most healthy relationships, the same may not be possible in a less-than-healthy one. If domestic violence, relationship tension, substance abuse, or mental illness are mixed in, the order to stay “safe at home” may not provide the safest environment.
So, what happens when the struggle is real?
When the abused no longer has a place to go to get space from their abuser, the potential for domestic violence escalation increases. However, employees need to know that just because they are not working on their employer’s premises, does not mean they are not alone in dealing with this matter. Just because they are a victim, does not mean they are without assistance.
In addition to its impact on safety, domestic violence costs employers in several ways: absenteeism, inability to concentrate, lower morale, and health care costs. As security professionals, it is up to us to ensure that our company’s employees are able to operate in a safe environment and perform at their highest capacity. As such, addressing the problem of domestic violence the company’s workplace violence program is necessary. Affording measures to prevent domestic violence-related incidents when threats present themselves at the workplace (or in the case of the new temporary normal, work-from-home place) fall within an employer’s broader legal obligation to provide a safe workplace and prevent violence.
The following are strategies for incorporating a Domestic Violence Prevention Program into an employer’s Workplace Violence Prevention Program:
Security professionals must demonstrate their commitment to support domestic violence victims and to take the protective steps necessary when violence occurs. This should not only focus on the victims, but the abusers as well. Not every employee involved in a domestic violence incident is the abused, he/she may be the abuser.
The most effective approach to a domestic violence program is to include the knowledge and expertise of security, human resources, and legal departments, with the support of senior management. Those tasked to be a part of the Threat Management Team should have training regarding domestic violence and the methods of response appropriate for the individual cases. This training is available, often at no cost, from community groups who provide domestic violence assistance.
Employees, supervisors and security personnel should learn how to better recognize signs of domestic violence behavior. One point that should be emphasized is that domestic violence has a tendency to escalate in frequency and severity over time if the cycle is not broken.
Warning Signs of Domestic Violence Behavior
USING COERCION AND THREATS
Making and/or carrying out threats to do something to hurt * Threatening to leave, to commit suicide, to report to welfare, etc * Making him/her drop charges * Making him/her do illegal things
Making him/her afraid by using looks, gestures, actions * Smashing things * Destroying his/her property * Abusing pets * Displaying weapons
USING EMOTIONAL ABUSE
Putting him/her down * Making him/her feel bad about him/herself * Name-calling * Making him/her think he/she’s crazy * Playing mind games * Humiliating him/her * Making him/her feel guilty
Controlling what he/she does, who he/she talks to, what he/she reads, where he/she goes * limiting outside involvement * using jealousy to justify actions
MINIMIZING, DENYING AND BLAME
Making light of the abuse and not taking his/her concerns about it seriously * Saying abuse didn’t happen * Shifting responsibility for abusive behavior * Saying he/she caused it
Making him/her feel guilty about the children * Using the children to relay messages * Using visitation to harass him/her * Threatening to take the children away
USING ECONOMIC ABUSE/PRIVILEGE
Preventing him/her from getting a job * Making him/her ask for money * Giving an allowance * Taking his/her access to money * Not including in big decisions * Being the one to define roles without his/her input
Employers should consider taking the following steps to ensure their workforce is aware of the support being provided:
- Educate employees on the basics of domestic violence, including signs of an abusive relationship
- Encouraging employees to contact supervisors, human resources, or security personnel about concerns related to domestic violence, without fear for their job or future career prospects
- Inform employees as to how and where they can find legal, psychological, or financial assistance when confronted with a domestic violence issue. Supervisors and members involved would benefit greatly to learn what domestic violence resources exist in their communities so they can afford this information to their employees.
Multiple reporting options should be afforded to employees who may not have the luxury of picking up a phone without receiving repercussions from their abuser. My department has made phone numbers, emails and online reporting forms available to those who are in need of assistance with workplace and domestic violence issues.
For some, a lack of positive support from those in their immediate space may lead to emotional isolation. However, identifying the resources that are available to employees and those within their household may increase awareness that social distancing doesn’t mean isolation from support resources. Employees experiencing violence at home should be encouraged to seek assistance from their employer’s employee assistance program, security department, domestic violence counseling agencies and/or local law enforcement.
Workplaces Respond to Domestic and Sexual Violence, a Department of Justice-funded National Resource Center authorized by the Violence Against Women Act
Now offers online meetings to offer support those struggling with substance abuse.
Al-Anon is a mutual support group of peers who have been affected by a problem drinker in their lives. This group now offers online meetings.