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Course 720 - Preventing Workplace Violence

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A Domestic Violence Situation

The Incident

A team member, the employee relations specialist, receives a phone call from an employee. She reports that she has just finished a long conversation with a friend and coworker, a part-time employee, who revealed to her that she is a victim of domestic violence. To her surprise, she learned that the woman's husband has been abusing her since their first child was born. He is careful to injure her only in ways that do not leave visible signs, and she feels sure no one would ever believe her word against his. The family's assets, even "her" car, are all in his name, and her part-time salary would not be enough for herself and the children to live on. Further, he has threatened to kill her if she ever leaves him or reveals the truth. After talking with the employee, the coworker agreed to let the situation be reported to the workplace violence team.

Response

The Employee Relations specialist agreed to meet with both employees immediately. The abused woman asked to have her friend along and, at the employee relations specialist's suggestion, gave her permission to explain the situation to the two employees' supervisor. After interviewing her in a caring, supportive way to get basic information, she asked other team members, the security director and the Employee Assistance Program (EAP) counselor, to join her in analyzing the situation. Then she met with the abused employee, her friend (at her request), and her supervisor to report on the team's recommendations.

The Employee Assistance Program counselor arranged for the abused woman to see another counselor, who had an open appointment that same day, for counseling and referral to the community agencies that could help her.

The counselor referred her to a comprehensive shelter for victims of abuse. She explained the comprehensive services the shelter could offer her: a safe place to stay with her children, advice on how to get out of her home situation safely, legal advice, and much other helpful information. At first, the employee was afraid to change the status quo. After several meetings with the Employee Assistance Program counselor and encouraging talks with her friend, she agreed to talk with the shelter staff. Her friend drove her to the meeting. They worked with her to develop a safe plan for leaving home with her children.

The employee asked the workplace violence team to coordinate with the shelter staff. After discussing her plan with them, the Security director identified that right after she left home would be a high risk period and arranged for a guard to be at the workplace during that time. He supplied photographs of the husband to the guard force.

With the woman's consent, the supervisor and security director discussed the situation with coworkers, shared the picture with them, and explained what they should do in various contingencies. At the meeting one coworker began complaining about danger to herself. The friend argued persuasively that, This could happen to any of us. Would you rather we stick together, or leave one another to suffer alone? This rallied the group, and the coworker decided to go along with the others.

The Supervisor agreed to use flextime and flexplace options to make the employee more difficult to find. Not only would she be working a different schedule; she would report to a suburban telecommuting center instead of the agency's central office.

The supervisor explained to the employee that she would like very much to have her on board full time, as she was an excellent worker, but that there was no position available. However, she encouraged her to seek a full time job, and made phone calls to colleagues in other departments to develop job leads for her. One of her professional associates offered to allow the employee to use their organization's career transition center, which had excellent job search resources, and was located in a different part of town from her normal worksite.

Resolution

The employee executed her plan for leaving home and moved to the shelter with her children. She worked with an attorney to obtain financial support and to begin divorce proceedings. She often had times of doubt and fear but found the shelter staff very supportive. Her coworkers encouraged her to call daily with reports on her progress.

The husband appeared at the office only once, a few days after his wife moved into the shelter. He shouted threats at the security guard, who calmly called for backup from the local police. Fearing for his reputation, he fled the scene before police could arrive. The guard force continued to monitor any efforts by the husband to gain entry to the building.

Six months later, the employee has obtained a full-time position at a nearby office within the same agency. She discovered that they also had a workplace violence team and made them aware of her situation, just in case she should need their help. She and her children have moved into an apartment. The children are seeing a child psychologist, recommended by the Employee Assistance Program counselor, to help them make sense of an upsetting situation, and she attends a support group for battered women. Her friend from her former office has helped her with encouragement, support, and suggestions on how to handle the stresses of single parenthood.

Questions for the Agency Planning Group

  1. Are your team members knowledgeable about domestic violence?

  2. What do you think about the role of the friend? How would you encourage agency employees to support coworkers in these types of situations?

  3. Does your agency have access to career transition services to help in these types of situations?

  4. Has your planning group identified someone knowledgeable about restraining/protective orders to discuss with the employee the pros and cons of obtaining one?