Penny Lauer

The Impact of Domestic Violence at Your Workplace & How You Can Help

By Penny Lauer

Penny Lauer

Don’t assume that the co-worker or employee who is frequently late, absent, emotional with co-workers, tired, depressed or frequently calling in ill – and is frustrating you to no end- is lazy, lying or uninterested in his or her job or company. Chances are that there is another very deep-rooted reason for that employee’s poor job performance, a reason that affects one out of every four women and one out of every fourteen men in the United States: Domestic Violence, a national social problem that impacts each and every one of us from our relationships to our safety and to our personal and business wallets.

Here are the national statistics:

  • 21% of full-time employed adults suffer from domestic violence
  • 75% of abusers of working women use workplace resources to express remorse or anger toward their victims, to check up on them, or to pressure and threaten them to quit their jobs
  • 24% of American employers, both large and small, have reported incidents of violence in the workplace by an abusive partner of an employee. That figure reflects only those employers who understand DV and allowed the issue to be raised by their employees.
  • Overall, experts indicate that DV costs U.S. businesses an estimated $3-$5 B annually in lost time and productivity, and yet only 4% of all working establishments train employees on DV and its impact

Another disturbing fact is that domestic violence is one of the leading causes of homelessness in this country, especially among women and children. When a woman needs her job the most – when she is trying to leave her partner – the abuse gets worse and so does her job performance. It’s at that point that she is often fired. With no source of income and no support system, she can end up on the streets.

Unbelievable as it may seem, an abuser generally doesn’t want his partner to work – not because he can’t use the income, but because her success, interaction with others and time from him is seen by him as diminishing his power. The economic self-sufficiency of his victim challenges his control and he will do anything to keep that from happening, including these behaviors that sabotage his partner’s ability to work:

  • Keeping her awake at night so that she will perform badly during the day and lose respect –poor performance
  • Hiding her car keys or inventing issues to keep her in the house so that she will be late to work -tardiness
  • Destroying her work clothes – absenteeism, loss of respect
  • Degrading her verbally and emotionally so that she actually feels that she is not qualified to do her work and has no respect among her co-workers – anxiety and depression
  • Physically abusing her before or after work for taking time from him or not fulfilling his needs at home – fear, stress, absenteeism due to injury
  • Stalking her at work and frightening her through phone calls or coming to her place of work if he sees her interacting with fellow employees – fear and embarrassment to her and co-workers
  • Threatening to harm her co-workers out of jealousy, which often results in her staying away from work or quitting all together

Often, those women who are trying hard to become self-sufficient and leave their abusers in order to make better lives for themselves and their children lose their jobs and return to their abusers, go on welfare or become homeless. It doesn’t have to be that way, and there are steps that can be taken by employers to ensure that women don’t become even more victimized, while, at the same time, help ensure productivity and reduce company expenses.

Workplace support can significantly help victims when they’re attempting to free themselves from violent situations at home, but historically, particularly among small to medium-sized businesses, employers simply don’t understand domestic violence and its consequences and don’t provide opportunities for their workers to discuss the reasons behind their poor performance. And often their genuine desire to respect their employee’s privacy interferes with their objectivity. In fact, only four percent of all working establishments train their employees on domestic violence and its impact in the workplace. That’s easy to correct. Here are some suggestions:

  • Employers must be sensitive and not assume anything when it comes to poor job performance and must remember that when they hire someone, they’re hiring the whole package, not just job skills.
  • Supervisory personnel must approach the problems introduced by an emotional, stressed and physically incapacitated employee through discussing objective job performance measures to begin focusing on the underlying personal problems.
  • Be pro-active. Familiarize yourselves with community resources available to victims and make lists that are readily available to them. Encourage the employee to seek professional counseling and assistance before job loss becomes a possibility. Additionally, if appropriate, put her in touch with an attorney to assist her in securing a Protection Order.
  • Once informed about past or ongoing abuse, alert security and address legal issues with the employee.
  • Provide security in the workplace. Help screen calls, walk the victim to her car, and call the police if the abuser enters the workplace and refuses to leave.
  •  Show compassion. Your empathy could be the only signs of respect and caring the victim has received in a lifetime.

Never doubt for one moment that by becoming smarter about this issue you will not only be improving your workplace, but you could also be saving someone’s life. At the very least, you could be someone’s hero and make your company more successful. Do some research. Find out the names of those corporations that understand the issue of domestic violence and have programs in place through their HR departments to help employees who are victims, and then develop your own safeguards. Domestic violence is a huge social ill in this country that affects one-fourth of all working men and women and their children and costs our federal, state and local governments and our businesses billions of dollars each year. Don’t be caught off guard when the issue becomes a part of your own business. Develop a plan now. Become a part of the solution.

Penny Lauer is an author, motivational speaker, and writing consultant for memoirs. She spent several years working with abused women. Her latest novel, Skipping Stones, tackles the subject of domestic violence in an upscale community. Contact Penny at for further information.