Great Ideas for your Small Business:
Deal Carefully with Issues of Workplace Violence
What would you do if your sales manager walked into work one morning with a black eye?
What do you say when your secretary shows up with a split lip and puffy, swollen eyes? Do you ask what happened? Do you pretend nothing is wrong?
A battered employee is impossible to ignore. No one likes to invade an employee’s privacy, but too often domestic violence adversely affects you and your business. Smaller businesses, which usually operate more like a close-knit family, are profoundly affected when an employee is in trouble.
Chances are that at some point, you will experience the devastating effects of domestic violence. Every year, about one million women are attacked by someone they know. And according to a report by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Women’s Bureaus, battered women can’t help bringing their problems with them to the office.
A recent study of women who are victims of domestic violence found that 96 percent experienced some problems at work. More than 60 percent were late for work; 70 percent reported having a tough time concentrating on their tasks. A distracted or unmotivated employee poses a personnel problem, but a battered and emotionally overwrought employee can turn into an emotional and financial disaster.
While corporations have formal employee assistance pro- grams, small business owners, who can’t even afford basic insurance benefits, rarely have such programs in place. In fact, only 15 percent of small businesses offer some sort of employee assistance program, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. But you obviously have to do something when an injured or emotionally upset employee appears at your office door.
The first step may be to provide basic medical attention at a local clinic. Referring the employee to a social service agency that provides counseling on a sliding-scale basis may also be a short-term solution. As an employer, you have to be careful not to cross the line and demand the details, but being truly compassionate rarely gets anyone in trouble. In many cases, a battered spouse only feels safe at work, so your place of business becomes her only haven.
Troubled employees rarely leave their problems at home.
You may have to deal with coworkers’ fear and be forced to increase security. If coworkers are afraid of the batterer, it can turn into a sensitive companywide problem, especially if people know the husband or boyfriend. (Most domestic violence cases involve men battering women, but there are definitely women who physically abuse their husbands— and lovers.)
In California, employers can seek a temporary restraining order on behalf of an employee if the person has been threatened with violence that could take place at work. This provision, in a piece of pioneering legislation, is part of the Work- place Violence Safety Act. Make sure you know what laws apply in your state. If domestic violence is affecting your business, don’t be an ostrich—deal with it.
Here are some of the many resources available to help:
- You can contact the National Workplace Resource Center on Domestic Violence in San Francisco, 383 Rhode Island St., Suite 304, San Francisco, CA 94103-5133
- The U.S. Department of Justice has a special office set up to deal with violence against women: Violence against Women Office, Room 5302, 10th & Constitution Ave., NW, Washing- ton, DC 20530.
- The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) also deals with workplace violence of all kinds.
- The NOW Legal Defense and Education Fund is another resource for employers, located at 99 Hudson St., New York, NY 10013;
- A twenty-four-hour, toll-free national domestic violence hotline (800-799-SAFE) provides counseling and referrals to a variety of services including medical care and shelters.