Lisa met her boyfriend, Greg, shortly after she started her new job. He worked in the department across the hall and was one of the first people to make her feel welcome. Their relationship quickly turned romantic and in the beginning, Lisa was happy with Greg. As the months went by, he became controlling and emotionally abusive. Lisa’s work suffered as she was constantly trying to appease Greg’s unpredictable behavior.
After almost a year, Lisa decided to end the relationship. She was sure that since they were in different departments, she wouldn’t have to see him that often. She loved her job and the work she did, and she didn’t want to quit. However, when his abusive behaviors didn’t stop, she considered leaving her job out of fear of what he might do.
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Understanding the dynamics of domestic violence and its effects on the workplace is a key component to ensuring the safety of employees, and provides an opportunity for the workplace to be a safe and supportive environment for survivors.
SafeHouse Denver’s Director of Counseling Services, Abby Hansen, believes, “Just as offices have safety plans and evacuation routes for tornadoes, it is important to be prepared when it comes to domestic violence in the workplace.” As a general rule, Abby suggests that employers work to create a culture in which a victim or survivor would feel safe disclosing to a supervisor or colleague that they are experiencing domestic violence. “Simply saying, ‘How are you?’ or ‘How can I help?’ can go a long way. You don’t have to see an employee with a black eye to know that they’re struggling.” she emphasizes.
Visiting the SafeHouse Denver website and learning about the signs of domestic violence is an important step that employers can take to be able to recognize and support employees. Employers can also take note of common situations or potential red flags for domestic violence. If an employee’s partner calls them excessively, regularly shows up uninvited to the workplace, or otherwise impedes the employee from doing their job, that employee may be experiencing domestic violence. A common misstep for employers when these instances occur is to place the burden on the victim by asking them to stop allowing the disruptive behaviors. Since the victim would surely stop the behavior if they could, employers can be more supportive by asking them what they need in order to feel safe.
If an employer does become aware of an employee experiencing domestic violence, there are a few steps they can take to help:
1. First and foremost, it is important to speak privately with the employee and allow them to guide the response. The employee may feel uncomfortable with intervention or may feel embarrassed. If they choose not to seek help, that is their right. For tips on how to communicate in a supportive manner with someone experiencing domestic violence, click here.
2. If the employee does choose to disclose that they are experiencing domestic violence, an employer can offer to help block the perpetrators access to the survivor by increasing security, asking the receptionist to not put their calls through, and/or encouraging employees to use the “buddy system” when walking in parking lots.
3. When appropriate, offer resources like SafeHouse Denver’s 24-Hour Crisis Line.
4. Assure the employee that you believe them and that their confidentiality is secure.
5. Learn more about the dynamics of domestic violence and the workplace, and consider formalizing a policy or plan for addressing the issue. Workplaces Respond is a national resource for employers, coworkers, and allies.
Creating a safe work environment is important for all employees, but taking extra steps for those experiencing domestic violence can truly mean the difference between life and death.
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On the advice of a close friend, Lisa called SafeHouse Denver’s 24-Hour Crisis Line and made an appointment to see an Advocate at the Counseling and Advocacy Center. With the help of her Advocate, Lisa was able to create a safety plan for herself and decided to disclose the situation to her supervisor. Together she and her supervisor brought the situation to the Human Resources office. They worked out a plan to transfer her to a new department, where she was finally able to feel safe at work.
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If you’re a survivor of domestic violence, here are a few tips for you to create a safe work environment of your own:
1. Consider calling SafeHouse Denver at 303-318-9989 to speak with an Advocate and create a safety plan.
2. If you feel safe, access your resources and allies. Speak with a close colleague or trusted supervisor.
3. Engage a colleague or security guard to walk you to your car.
4. If you feel unsafe where you park or enter your workplace, ask your supervisor if there’s somewhere else you can park or a back entrance you can use.
5. Consider driving different routes to and from work.