How to Talk with Someone Who is Being Abused
Guidelines for Supervisors
Supervisors face one of the most challenging aspects of domestic violence as a work place issue: what to say to an employee who a supervisor believes is being abused, and how to say it in a way that is respectful of her privacy. Unless the employee tells her supervisor about the abuse, a supervisor should not make direct inquiries about known or suspected abuse, as this may deprive the employee of her privacy about personal matters.
However, you can create a working environment where employees feel safe about talking about the problems they face in their personal lives. You can educate employees about domestic violence, and display posters, safety cards and other materials condemning violence. Additionally, supervisors should address performance-related issues that may arise due to domestic violence, and in doing so can make appropriate referrals to services that may assist the employee.
“I think one of my employees might be experiencing domestic violence…. What should I do?”
If your employee has unexplained bruises, or explanations that just don’t add up, if she is distracted, has trouble concentrating, misses work often, or receives repeated, upsetting telephone calls during the day, she may be being abused. She may appear anxious, upset or depressed. The quality of her work may fluctuate for no apparent reason. Or she might miss work, due to frequent medical problems and fears about leaving children at home alone with an abuser.
You might feel awkward discussing domestic violence with an employee or co-worker. That’s a natural reaction, and you don’t want to put her on the spot if she is not ready to talk. But you can let her know you support her.
If an employee does approach you and disclose that she is being abused, here are some simple, supportive messages you can give her:
While your role is not to be a counselor, you can refer her to in-house counseling services and local domestic violence advocacy agencies that can help her. One of the most supportive things you can do overall is secure training on domestic violence for you and your staff. Your local program will be able to provide this training at no cost.
At work, she may want to:
· Save any threatening e-mail or voicemail messages. She can use these to take legal action in the future, if she chooses to. If she already has a restraining order, the messages can serve as evidence in court that the order was violated.
· Park close to the entrance of her building, and talk with security, the police, or a manager if she fears an assault at work.
· Have her calls screened, transfer harassing calls to security, or remove her name and number from automated phone directories.
· Think about flexible or alternate work hours.
· Relocate her work area to a more secure work area.
She should have a safety plan for home as well. Encourage her to seek help.
· Calling the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1(800)799-SAFE for referrals to local domestic violence programs that can help.
“What if my employee does not tell me about the abuse?”
If you believe that your employee is facing abuse in her personal life, but she does not disclose this to you, you must respect her privacy. If there are performance issues that result from the abuse, such as reduced productivity or excessive absences, you may offer help to her by focusing on the performance problems in an empathetic and understanding manner, and refer her to the appropriate company and community resources.
Respect the employee’s boundaries and privacy, even if you disagree with the decisions she is making regarding the relationship. A survivor of domestic violence may make numerous attempts to leave an abuser, but it is often difficult because of financial and childcare responsibilities, or threats of violence. Be patient and understanding.
Regardless of her decisions or actions, respect confidentiality in all your discussions with her.
Based on “Work to End Domestic Violence”Family Violence Prevention Fund