At it’s core, domestic violence is about one individual exercising power and control over another. It is defined as when one person is being harmed by another person while they are in a domestic relationship. Signs of domestic violence in an employee, co-worker, or colleague can sometimes be obvious. However, with the rise in remote working, these signs may become more difficult to detect, particularly if the victimised employee actively seeks to conceal the effects of the abuse. During the COVID-19 crisis, an abuser may use one of your employee’s remote work situation as an opportunity to tighten control over his or her victim.
Experts in the area of mental health and wellness agree, the prevalence and severity of domestic violence impacting the workplace should demand the attention of employers, Emanagers, human resources and security staff. Yet, a large percentage of organisations do not have a formal workplace domestic violence prevention policy. HR professionals may be reluctant to dig into employees’ personal lives, but by providing carefully considered, policy-aligned support for workers suffering from domestic abuse, HR may be able to protect employees, prevent workplace tragedies and boost productivity.
Experts in the area of mental health and wellness agree, the prevalence and severity of domestic violence impacting the workplace should demand the attention of employers…
How can domestic violence impact the workplace?
Domestic violence can impact operations in several ways. These include:
- The negative business effects of domestic violence can include loss of productivity and performance.
- A determined abuser knows that the victim can likely be found at work and may seek to contact them at the office. So, the potential for domestic violence and intimate partner relationships to spill into the workplace has been repeatedly recognised as a potential threat to employee safety.
- In the current COVID-19 crisis, where many employees are working from home, if their abuser is listening or monitoring work communications, or reading and editing company correspondence, these behaviours present significant security and data privacy concerns for an organisation and its client base.
“The negative business effects of domestic violence can include loss of productivity and performance.”
What is legally considered to be domestic violence in South Africa?
- Physical abuse – if the complainant is being physically injured by the respondent, for example, being punched, kicked or pushed.
- Sexual abuse – if the complainant is being forced by the respondent to perform a sexual act, for example, the respondent may force the complainant to have sexual intercourse with him/her.
- Emotional and psychological abuse – if the respondent verbally insults or humiliates the complainant, for example, calling him/her offensive names.
- Economic abuse – if the complainant suffers financial damages caused by the respondent, for example, where the respondent sells household property or uses a joint bank account for personal use without the consent of the complainant.
- Intimidation, harassment or stalking – if the respondent repeatedly follows and watches the complainant, or where the respondent makes unwanted telephone calls or sends unwanted emails and text messages to the complainant.
- Property damages – if the respondent damages any property that belongs to the complainant.
- Trespassing – if the respondent enters the complainant’s home or property without his/her consent.
Some common signs of domestic violence include:
- The victim’s partner criticises, berates, or disparages the victim in front of other people.
- The victim is constantly worried about making his or her partner angry.
- The victim makes excuses for his or her partner’s behaviour or justifies the abuse as somehow deserved.
- The victim’s partner is extremely jealous, constantly suspicious, or possessive.
- The victim has unexplained marks or injuries.
- The victim has stopped spending time with friends and family.
- The victim is depressed or anxious, or you notice significant changes in his or her personality.
There are additional signs of domestic violence that managers may observe in a victimised employee during the COVID-19 crisis:
- The abuser uses the pandemic as a scare tactic to keep the victim at home and isolated from others.
- The abuser withholds essential items, such as food, toiletries, masks, or sanitizers.
- The victim has unexplained changes in behaviour such as an unreasonable refusal to participate in remote team video conferencing.
- There are indications that the abuser is listening or monitoring work communications.
- The language, style, or tone of the employee’s correspondence has changed, indicating that the abuser is reading or editing the victim’s work.
As remote work and videoconferencing continues, advocacy organisations have developed a single-hand gesture to alert co-workers, family and friends that an individual is at risk.
Know the hand signal for domestic violence.
Guidelines for Managers
Victims often fear leaving their abusive partner because of threats that have been made concerning their safety or their children’s safety. Because the abusing partner often controls all the finances as well as phone, social contact and car access, the most opportune time for an abused employee to plan for a safe transition may be during work hours.
“The most important aspect of helping employees who are a victim of domestic violence is that your workers need to be able to trust you, or else they won’t reach out for help.”
- The most important aspect of helping employees who are a victim of domestic violence is that your workers need to be able to trust you, or else they won’t reach out for help.
- Before approaching an employee with concerns that they may be in a domestic violence situation, think carefully about who would be the best person(s) to have this conversation and what should and should not be discussed.
- If the employee tells you that she (or he) is in an abusive relationship:
- Communicate your concerns for the safety of the employee and for the employee’s children if there are any.
- Inform the employee that the Employee Assistance Programme (EAP) can provide free and confidential assistance with counselling and safety planning.
- If your organisation does not have an EAP refer the employee to other available community resources.
To reduce risk in a potentially dangerous situation, managers and HR professionals should avoid becoming involved in counselling the employee or providing personal logistical support (e.g. offering your home as a shelter, taking responsibility for making safety checks at the employee’s home, making personal loans etc.). Managers should not deal with these volatile problems alone and should seek confidential consultation with:
- EAP practitioners about counselling and community resources.
- Security staff about workplace safety issues
- HR staff regarding time off and performance issues etc.
“To reduce risk in a potentially dangerous situation, managers and HR professionals should avoid becoming involved in counselling the employee or providing personal logistical support…”
Keep the focus on what the workplace can do to help.
- Ask the employee if any changes could be made at work to make them feel safer, for example providing a photo of abuser to company security or changing their work location
- Allow employees the opportunity to make private telephone calls or attend appointments during work hours.
- Respect the employee’s privacy and maintain your relationship as a supervisor, not as a counsellor.
How EAPs can assist in cases of domestic violence
EAPs have a multi-functional role to play when it comes to helping manage, minimise and support the impact of domestic violence in the workplace. They can act as both a counselling and information resource, and reference point, to help raise awareness of the issue among employees who may be victims, as well as supporting the managers and colleagues of those who may be affected by this abuse.
- EAP practitioners can be essential in providing training for managers and HR professionals on how to recognise the signs of domestic violence.
- EAP programmes can address domestic violence more openly among colleagues by raising awareness and providing vital information.
- By promoting awareness of domestic violence and the EAP services available to victims, employers can make it safe to talk about.
- Closing the information gap is especially important for workers who may wish to reach out to help another worker who they suspect is in crisis as their intervention has the potential to backfire and cause more harm than good.
- An EAP practitioner can offer guidance on how to approach employees who may be at risk, and provide resources for help with various personal situations in their benefit offerings.
- EAPs can connect employees with referrals to help them get an order of protection, support services and domestic violence shelters.
Encourage employees’ utilisation of EAP services. Encourage leaders who have used services to share their experiences. Invite a therapist who is part of the EAP network to explain how EAP counselling works.