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The Flip Side of IPV and Domestic Violence in the Workplace

The issues of intimate partner violence (IPV) and domestic violence in the workplace continue to make news. First, tragic events are still occurring, like last month when an employee of Ingles Market in Covington, GA, was shot by her estranged husband in the store’s deli section. Also, states continue to pass laws to compel employers to protect workers against such acts. For example, a new law went into effect July 1 in California. Employers with 25 or more employees must now provide new employees with a written notice about the rights of victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, and stalking to take protected time off for medical treatment or legal proceedings.

It’s natural that nearly all discussions about IPV at work have a similar focus on victims. But what about when a store employee isn’t a victim of IPV—but a perpetrator?

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The Flip Side of Domestic Violence in the Workplace

Although the collision of IPV and the workplace is drawing more scrutiny these days, a gap remains in fully understanding the impact the issue has on employers, including retail organizations.

Harm to the victim’s employer is the subject of frequent study. Research has shown that when organizations have employees who are victims of IPV, the organization suffers negative consequences in the form of low employee morale, lost workdays, increased tardiness, higher medical costs, costs from hiring temporary employees or paying overtime to make up for absent workers, and job abandonment. There has been scant investigation, however, into the impact on employers by employee perpetrators of intimate partner abuse.

There are several questions at issue, including:

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  • What is the impact of an employee’s IPV behavior on the perpetrator’s workplace?
  • How do employers typically respond when they become aware of an employee’s abusive domestic behavior?
  • Are there indications that employers would benefit by responding differently?

Recently, a novel study helped to provide insight on these questions. The Vermont Council on Domestic Violence partnered with the University of Vermont to study the effect of domestic violence on employers. In Vermont, some men who are involved in abusive domestic relationships are eligible to enroll in Batterer Intervention Programming (BIP). Researchers completed interviews with 193 BIP participants.

The study discovered that among these offenders of domestic violence in the workplace:

  • 31 percent took time off work to be abusive to an intimate partner or deal with the aftermath of an abusive incident.
  • 53 percent acknowledged that their job performance was negatively affected during the time of their abuse.
  • 75 percent said they had a hard time concentrating while at work because of their abusive relationship.
  • 21 percent of respondents contacted their partner from work to threaten her. And 29 percent contacted her from work to say something to scare or intimidate her.
  • 25 percent left work or were late to work because they were doing something controlling or abusive to their partner. More than half of these men tried to cover up this type of absence from work.

Workplace safety is also put at risk when an employee is abusing an intimate partner, according to the study, “How Does Domestic Violence Affect the Vermont Workplace? A survey of male offenders enrolled in batterer intervention programs in Vermont.” For example, respondents admitted to getting into verbal or physical fights with coworkers and breaking equipment or supplies because of their uncontrolled anger towards their partner.

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Implication: The data supports the existing economic argument for addressing domestic violence as a work issue. It shows that employers are harmed financially when an employee is a perpetrator of IPV, just as they are when employees are victims. Employers should also be aware that inaction in the face of having an employee who is abusive to an intimate partner may have unintended—and potentially deadly—consequences for the victim.

Unfortunately, according BIP participants interviewed in Vermont, most coworkers and supervisors did nothing to intervene when they became aware that the worker was abusing an intimate partner. In 83 percent of cases when a batterer took time off from work due to their domestic violence offense, a supervisor knew about it. However, only 32 percent of supervisors made any mention to the employee about his domestic violence incident or addressed the issue in any way at all.

Intervention would probably have helped, according to many abusers. Some 59 percent thought it would be helpful for supervisors to confront an employee whom they suspect of being abusive toward their intimate partner. Confronting the abuser includes offering counseling, resources, help and support, and warning about the consequences of domestic violence.

More than 40 percent of batterers felt that workplace meetings emphasizing company policies on domestic violence, establishing a workplace culture against domestic violence, and the presence of a written employee safety policy would be “very effective measures that workplaces could take to prevent domestic violence.” Finally, 40 percent of abusers recommended that employers respond with disciplinary action when employees are found to be using work time and resources to abuse intimate partners.

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