Recognizing Signs of Domestic Violence at Work

Domestic violence

October is Domestic Violence Awareness month. Unless you or someone close to you has experienced domestic violence, you might think of it as something that only impacts people at home. Unfortunately, abuse is often subtle and happening to people of all socio-economic classes, ages, races, genders, etc.

There’s a fine line to employers getting involved in the personal lives of employees. But often domestic abuse doesn’t stay within the confines of a home’s walls. And the sheer number of people impacted by domestic violence are staggering: Nearly one in three women and one in seven men are victims of domestic violence during their lifetime. Even more numbing is that 53% of people know someone who has been a victim of abuse.

Domestic violence harms the health and well-being of your employees. And it can hurt a company’s bottom line through lost productivity and missed work.

Domestic Violence Network statistics show that 74% of women who are abused were harassed by their abuser while on the job. More than half were late for work at least five times per month because of abuse. Nearly 30% had to leave work early at least five days a month. And 54% missed three or more full days of work per month due to abuse.

Abuse is estimated to cost employers over $5.8 billion a year; $4.1 billion of that is directly related to medical expenses.

In a workforce of 50 people, approximately 27 people know someone impacted by domestic violence. If the employee mix is equal (25 female and 25 male), approximately eight females and three males are victims of abuse. And the U.S. Department of Justice statistics estimate that four women and one man per day are killed by abuse from an intimate partner.

Central Indiana statistics are sobering: agencies received 22,758 calls in 2016 related to domestic violence, according to the State of Domestic Violence Report.

Employers should understand that this violence won’t always be obvious. Abused employees will not always come to work with bruises or other injuries; if they do, it’s a safe bet that they’ve been emotionally abused for much longer.

Here are common abuse signs to watch for in employees:

  • Increase in absenteeism and/or tardiness: abusers may start fights prior to work, take vehicles to prevent the abused individual from getting to work, etc. Or the absences may be due to injuries if the abuse has reached the physical stage
  • Increased distraction: someone may suffer from poor concentration, anxiety and isolation. They may always keep a cell phone nearby and answer it quickly and then appear nervous or upset after answering the call or reading the text
  • Changes in social interaction: employees may stop doing things socially with co-workers. They may stop going to lunch with others and may avoid certain people
  • Increased or frequent visits by the abuser: visits alone aren’t enough to indicate something is wrong, but if the individual has negative reactions when the abuser is there or right after, there could be a problem

What are employers able to do for employees they suspect may be in an abusive situation? If you suspect your employee is a victim of abuse, the first thing you can do is offer a safe place for discussion.

If you suspect an employee is being abused, show kindness in your approach. Ask the employee if there is anything that you can help with and avoid telling him or her you think that abuse is occurring. If the employee is showing up with physical evidence of abuse, an employer should ask, “Is someone hurting you?”

If the answer is no, accept it. The employee may not be ready to share the abuse or may not yet see themselves as victims. Let the employee know you care and that you are there to help if you can. Refer them to a local domestic violence network or shelter if necessary.

FMLA News: Overactive Nurse Done In by Facebook Posts

If you're into rhyming mnemonic devices, a relevant one for workers on leave could be: "If you're out on FMLA, better watch how much you play."

The California Chamber's HR Watchdog blog tells the tale of a nurse in Detroit who was not only quite active while on leave, but documented her hijinx on Facebook. Needless to say, her employer and coworkers were less than enthusiastic about how she was milking the company.

A Detroit nurse out on Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) leave for a back and leg injury was fired after Facebook posts showed her vacationing in Mexico. Her doctor certified the need for her leave due to substantial lifting and mobility restrictions. But several Facebook posts showed the nurse in Mexico riding in a boat; lying on a bed holding up two bottles of beer.

She also posted other details about her life that seemed inconsistent with her leave, including pictures of herself holding her grandchildren while standing (one in each arm), details about trips to Home Depot, “watching” the grandchildren and taking online classes.

Co-workers who were Facebook “friends” of the nurse told management. While on leave, the nurse sent an email to her boss complaining that she never received a get-well card from staff.

Her boss replied that: “the staff were waiting until you came back from your vacation in Mexico to determine the next step. Since you were well enough to travel on a 4+ hour flight, wait in customs lines, bus transport, etc., we were assuming you would be well enough to come back to work.”

The nurse responded that she used wheelchairs at the airports, but eventually conceded that this was a lie and that she had been able to stand for 30 minutes while waiting in airport lines.

She was terminated for violating a company policy on dishonesty and for misuse of FMLA leave. A federal court in Michigan upheld the termination. Lineberry v. Richards (E.D. Mi. February 5, 2013)

A Major Flaw in the Education System

A New Jersey teacher was caught on camera mocking and threatening violence toward a 15-year-old special needs student. But the teacher is unlikely to lose his job due to rules and regulations that make it very difficult — and expensive — to terminate someone.

Difficult as in a 15-step process that could take between two and five years to complete. Expensive as in from $300,000 to $500,000.

The Education Action Group recently reported:

It only takes three years in New Jersey to become a tenured teacher. The Garden State’s teacher tenure laws are so deeply flawed that 77 percent of state residents support tenure reform. Gov. Chris Christie, as well as legislative Democrats and Republicans, have offered reform plans.

The current process begins by formally bringing tenure charges against a teacher. Then the real work begins.
After months of gathering evidence, the investigator shares his findings with the district superintendent and the state commissioner of education. If both officials certify the charges, the case is sent to the New Jersey Office of Administrative Law and a trial is scheduled.
The trial itself can last up to four years. The accused teacher doesn’t mind, because after 120 calendar days, he or she collects full pay for the remainder of the process. School districts not only have to pay that salary, but must hire substitutes to fill in for the suspended teacher and pay lawyers to pursue the termination case.
During the trial, witnesses are called to testify and a judge typically asks the attorneys to file legal briefs. All of that can take 30 to 90 days. Then the judge will make a decision in the case, which typically takes another three or four months.
The state commissioner of education then reviews the judge’s decision and issues a final decision. That often takes another two or three months.
But in many cases, those days, weeks and months can stretch into years. Judges typically hear these cases on days they have available – perhaps one day one week, then two days a few weeks later.
When the entire process is finally complete and the teacher is found guilty, he or she has the option of appealing the decision, if another court will agree to hear it.

More Frivolous Lawsuits

Courts play a critical role in society. A justice system, however, that permits extremely frivolous (and extremely costly) lawsuits demonstrates there is a great deal of room for improvement. Everyone pays the prices for lawsuit abuses. The Heartland Institute looks at a few:

An 18-year-old high school student in shop class attached an electrical cord to one of his nipples with an alligator clamp, while a classmate used another alligator clamp to attach the cord to the student’s other nipple. A third student plugged the cord into an electrical wall socket.

The resulting three-second shock knocked the student to the ground and briefly stopped his heart. The boy survived but allegedly suffered short-term memory loss and brain damage.

Naturally, he’s suing the school and the teacher for failing to warn him it could be dangerous to play with electrical cords.