Empowering Domestic Violence Survivors in the Workplace

Often, for many businesses and organizations, an expense isn’t included in their budgets. It’s the cost of domestic violence taking its toll on one or more of their employees. A total of eight million days of paid work are lost by survivors of domestic violence each year. This is the equivalent of 32,000 jobs. To empower domestic violence survivors in the workplace, companies must recognize how they can take proactive steps to support their employees. This support can be a win-win for their business and community.

Costs of domestic violence in the workplace

Relationship abuse occurs when one person uses physical, sexual, psychological, or economic abuse to control the other in a romantic relationship. But the abuse doesn’t just stay at home. Instead, it can manifest in the workplace through harassment, intimidation, or manipulation by an abusive partner. This can have damaging effects on the survivor’s professional and overall well-being. A survey by the Corporate Alliance to End Partner Violence found that 64% of respondents who were victims or survivors reported relationship abuse impacted their ability to work. 40% said their abusive partner harassed them at work via phone and in person. When tallied up, the price of intimate partner abuse costs companies more than $8.3 billion per year. These statistics show what many mistakenly consider a “private issue” has a very public impact on the workforce and the economy.

Empowering survivors in the workplace

Assuring job security is one way for businesses to create a supportive environment. The design of policies that offer flexible work arrangements, such as remote work, flexible hours, or extended leave, acknowledges survivors’ challenges and allows them to seek help without fear of losing their jobs. Employers who notice their employees experiencing relationship abuse can empower survivors in the workplace by doing the following:

Increase awareness of domestic violence.

One place to start is to raise awareness of domestic violence and support survivors. This conversation extends far beyond Domestic Violence Awareness Month, held in October. Survivors experience abuse 365 days a year. By acknowledging this reality for some employees, your organization or business can demonstrate solidarity with them while creating educational opportunities for everyone to learn about intimate partner violence. This can include how power and control are at the root of unhealthy and abusive relationship dynamics and the warning signs that a co-worker might recognize – even if the abuse is not physical.

Provide domestic violence leave.

Another way to support employees who are survivors of relationship abuse is to offer paid leave specifically for domestic violence situations. Every state is different, but companies should feature this policy in their employee handbook. It can be in the same category as other life events, such as bereavement, jury duty, and parental leave. Currently, federal law allows certain employees to take Family and Medical Leave (FMLA) to address specific health-related issues resulting from domestic violence. Incorporating paid leave specific to intimate partner violence in your company’s leave policies means a survivor doesn’t have to use sick or vacation time to attend doctor or therapy appointments stemming from the abuse they experienced or to testify at court dates.



Ensure a safe working environment

Creating a safe work environment for survivors of relationship abuse is another way to address this issue. An important first step in addressing relationship abuse is acknowledging that employees are experiencing it. It is important to encourage survivors to share their experiences as part of their healing journey if they wish.

Survivors of relationship abuse should also have access to support and resources through a company’s support system. Companies can offer employees mental health services, workplace safety policies, and advocacy services to employees. In addition, they can create a safe environment for employees to speak up about relationship abuse. Remember, when with employees, be non-judgmental and understand that they may feel embarrassed by it.


Embrace Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging (DEIB) practices at work

Consider domestic abuse survivors when planning your organization’s diversity and inclusion initiatives. After all, if your diversity plan does not include survivors or communities on the margins, is it diverse? Integrating survivor voices into your company’s Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging (DEIB) initiatives can be the beginning of encouraging leadership to be survivor-centric, but it’s certainly not the end.

Get help

Your company’s support and respect for employees’ decisions can make a difference. Knowing their company is supportive of their situation may help employees who are survivors or who have experienced relationship abuse to take steps towards a safer place.

If you suspect an employee is experiencing abuse, our advocates are available 24/7 to talk about it. Call 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) or chat at thehotline.org.