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Domestic Violence in the Workplace

by David Khan on 12/31/2003
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Domestic violence does not always remain hidden behind closed doors. In fact, the abuse encountered at home often follows an individual to work, resulting in violence in the workplace. There are plenty of cases, and one in particular involved a Texas woman who had notified her employer that she feared for her life because of her abusive ex-boyfriend. The woman revealed that a restraining order was in place, and her ex-boyfriend had even called her supervisor saying that if she was not fired, he would come to the office to kill her. Despite her efforts, her ex-boyfriend walked into the building where she worked, passed the security guard, who had pictures of him, and shot and killed her. Her family eventually sued the employer for wrongful-death on the basis that the company had failed to take reasonable steps to provide the employee a safe place to work. The suit was eventually settled (La Rose v. State Mutual Life Assurance Co., No. 9322684, 215th DC, Harris County, Texas, 12/5/94).

This tragedy and many like it serve as powerful reminders that domestic violence is an issue that no employer can afford to ignore. With one out of every three women reporting physical or sexual abuse by an intimate partner at some point in her lifetime1, the odds of it affecting the workplace are high.

The Business Impact
The effects of domestic violence do not stop at the door when employees go to work. The corporate cost of domestic violence has been estimated to be between three to five billion dollars annually for medical expenses and increased health care costs directly related to domestic violence. Other effects include:

  • The annual cost of lost productivity due to domestic violence is estimated as $727.8 million, with over 7.9 million paid workdays lost each year.2
  • The costs of intimate partner violence exceed $5.8 billion each year, $4.1 billion of which is for direct medical and mental health care services2, much of which is paid for by the employer.
  • Employers are aware of this economic burden: 44% of executives surveyed say that domestic violence increases their health care costs.3
  • 47% of senior executives polled said that domestic violence has a harmful effect on the company's productivity.
  • 94% of corporate security directors surveyed rank domestic violence as a high security problem at their company.
  • A large majority of Employee Assistance Programs (EAP) providers surveyed regularly deal with partner abuse scenarios, including employees with a restraining order (83%) and employees being stalked at work by a current or former partner (71%).4

Legal Liability
The following are examples of legal considerations that employers need to take into account when faced with employees who are victims of domestic violence.

  • Occupational safety and health laws often require employers to maintain a safe, violence-free workplace.
  • The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) or state disabilities laws may require job accommodation for individuals who are or become mentally or physically disabled as a result of domestic violence.
  • Family and medical leave laws may require employers to grant leave to employees who are coping with serious health conditions resulting from domestic violence situations.
  • Anti-discrimination laws prohibit employers from discriminating against employees based upon their actual or perceived status as victims of domestic violence.
  • Insurance legislation prohibits discriminating against victims of domestic violence in determining eligibility for health, life, disability, or homeowner's insurance.
  • Employers may be required to grant periods of unpaid leave for employees to attend court appearances and medical appointments.
  • In some circumstances, acts of violence may constitute as a form of sexual harassment, which violates federal and/or state anti-discrimination laws. This is the case if the perpetrator creates a hostile environment at the workplace and the company knowingly neglects to take reasonable corrective action.

What Employers Can Do

As evidenced by the abundance of legislation, employers must ensure that their response to domestic violence does not inadvertently violate any laws or rules. So what are employers doing about it? First and foremost, many are taking a proactive approach. This includes designing and implementing a domestic violence in the workplace policy before an incident occurs. This policy needs to focus on providing information and referrals to employees who are victims of domestic violence and should address issues related to the need for time off and security. This allows employers to create a safer and more supportive environment while reducing its exposure.

Another proactive solution involves training staff to recognize and appropriately respond to domestic violence. This training is intended to heighten awareness about domestic violence and provide employees with information about the resources available in their communities. Given their experience, local domestic violence agencies can assist employers with this critical component of the training program. Managers and supervisors also need to be taught how to implement policies and procedures that address domestic violence as a workplace issue.

Through proper policy development and training, employers can create an environment that supports battered workers while lessening the financial impact of domestic violence in the workplace.

1. The Facts on the Workplace and Domestic Violence. Family Violence Prevention Fund. Washington, DC. Retrieved September 21, 2004.

2. Costs of Intimate Partner Violence Against Women in the United States. 2003. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Injury Prevention and Control. Atlanta, GA. Retrieved January 9, 2004.

3. Addressing Domestic Violence: A Corporate Response. 1994. Roper Starch Worldwide. New York, NY.

4. Domestic Violence: A Workplace Issue. Maricopa Association of Governments Regional Domestic Violence Council. Retrieved September 21, 2004.

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Categories: 2004, Safety

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