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Warning signs at work

“One of the characteristics of domestic violence is isolation,” says Barb MacQuarrie, community director of the Centre for Research and Education on Violence Against Women & Children in the Faculty of Education at the Western University. “The more isolated someone is, the more dangerous their situation. By breaking through the isolation, you can help to make someone safer.”

It's not your job to fix someone else’s life or solve someone else’s problems, but you can be an important influence, a source of support and validation, and a source of information. First, you have to be able to recognize the signs that a coworker is being affected by domestic violence. Here are several to look for:

  • Obvious injuries. Bruises, black eyes, broken bones and hearing loss that are attributed to falls or accidents that seem out of character.
  • Unsuitable attire. Wearing sunglasses inside or long sleeves in the summer may be covering up injuries.
  • Schedule changes, such as uncharacteristic absenteeism or tardiness. Or, conversely, working longer hours and not wanting to go home.
  • Changes in job performance. Someone who’s been a good employee but now is late or missing work, the quality of their work is inconsistent, they seem distracted or are completing work more slowly—those could be signs of someone experiencing DV at home.
  • Workplace disruptions. Disruptive visits to the workplace by a current or ex-partner or spouse, or harassing phone calls, either directly to the worker or to coworkers or employers.
  • Emotional distress. The coworker cries or seems fearful, anxious or depressed.
  • Minimization. She downplays injuries or harassment.
  • Timing of gifts. A coworker dealing with an abusive partner may receive flowers or other gifts at the office after periods of emotional distress or injury.

If you’re fairly certain a colleague’s partner is abusing him or her, start by consulting your employee handbook.

The first thing you should do is find out if the workplace has a policy on how to respond to domestic violence. Some will have policies that give information about how to make informal or formal reports. A good policy will have information about resources the workplace can provide.”

Then, talk to your coworker—directly, if possible. “Only about 18 percent of victims disclose abuse to their employer directly. Between 30 and 40 percent tell a coworker,” says Lynn Fairweather, MSW, principal of Presage Consulting and Training. “That puts coworkers in a unique position to get help for their fellow coworkers.”

Just be careful how you broach the topic. Don’t assume or accuse. “We know that we can’t necessarily jump to the conclusion that it’s domestic violence, so what you want to do is talk to your coworker directly and nonjudgmentally,” she says. “The goal is not exposing a secret but opening a door so people feel comfortable talking about it.”

Try offering examples and asking questions. “You might say, ‘I see you’ve been late and you’re getting a lot of phone calls and your ex-husband has been hanging around. What’s going on?’” MacQuarrie suggests. “If it’s domestic violence, then you can determine if you need help with the situation from a supervisor, expert or women’s shelter.” Here in Somerset County, Safe+Sound Somerset has call or text based hotline available 24/7 at 866-685-1122.

If your coworker is resistant to talking or denies any abuse, don’t press the issue. “If they say no, my suggestion would be to back off and try again later, maybe in a different way,” Fairweather says. “Simply say ‘I care about you and I want to help you.’”

Or, mention what you’ve observed to someone who’s friends with the coworker or HR, if you’re not particularly close and don’t feel comfortable bringing it up.

For over thirty-five years, Safe+Sound Somerset has been dedicated to providing domestic abuse services to victims and their families in Somerset County.  Founded by volunteers as a local grass-roots effort, Safe+Sound Somerset has grown to become a cornerstone of help and hope for victims of domestic violence and their families by providing a comprehensive range of services designed to support and empower our clients.  Services are offered confidentially, free of charge, and in both English and Spanish. 

Visit www.safe-sound.org for more information.

Article adapted from www.domesticshelters.org/domestic-violence-articles-information/warning-signs-at-work#.WLV-WVUrInT

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About This Blog

Safe+Sound Somerset staff members author this blog to provoke conversations about the impact of domestic abuse in our society.

About This Blog

Safe+Sound Somerset staff members author this blog to provoke conversations about the impact of domestic abuse in our society.

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