When we hear "domestic violence," our first thought isn't likely to be about safety in the workplace. But it's not something that just happens in the home. In fact, between 2003 and 2008, one third of all female deaths in the workplace were a direct result of domestic violence.

With such a strikingly high rate, it's clear that employers need to do something—but what? Do you know what your legal obligations are if domestic violence crosses into your workplace, and would you know how to deal with it?

When Should You Get Involved?

Employers have no legal responsibility to intervene in cases of domestic violence as long as they occur outside of the workplace and do not pose any threat to employees in the workplace or the workplace as a whole. If, however, a worker’s partner makes a threat that could mean potential harm to employees in the workplace or shows up at the workplace with the intention of harming the employee, you are legally obligated to mitigate any associated risks.

How to Determine Whether Your Employees Are at Risk

As an employer, the first step you should take when you learn of a potential risk is to assess it. This includes evaluating all elements of the situation.

When you are told there is a potential risk of domestic violence in your workplace, or you suspect there may be, ask yourself:

  • What threat was made?
  • Who would this threat impact?
  • What can I do to minimize the risk posed to employees at risk?
  • How likely is this threat to turn into a reality?
  • Does this threat involve the wellbeing of a minor?
  • What is the best way to approach the situation at hand?

What Can You Do to Eliminate or Minimize the Risk?

The first step to dealing with the potential for domestic violence in the workplace is to have a plan in place. Take the time to establish a policy and procedures for dealing with situations involving domestic violence threats.

The policy and related procedures should cover what to do when a risk presents itself, and outline how to deal with such risks. It should also include steps for dealing with both imminent and non-imminent risks.

How and When Should You Inform Employees of a Risk?

Informing employees can be a difficult task, since employers have to adhere to as a certain level of confidentiality. Balance your obligation to keep employees safe with their right to confidentiality by only informing staff who are directly at risk or likely to encounter the individual who poses the risk.

Employees should be:

  • Trained to recognize the potential for domestic violence. Share the typical warning signs that something might go wrong. If a victim has attempted to leave an abusive relationship, it is often to the workplace that the abuser first comes looking
  • Informed about the associated support systems offered by your company to assist in dealing with household issues like domestic violence, such as family counseling.
  • Trained in policies and procedures relating to workplace threats. This includes appropriate knowledge of the evacuation plan and lockdown procedures
  • Aware of who they must notify first if they learn of a potential threat

Engage in Proactive, Not Reactive Safety

Reactive safety does nothing to protect the workers before an incident occurs. If you are notified that one of your employees has made attempts to leave an abusive relationship, there are a number of proactive measures you can take to keep them safe. These could include:

  • Having an emergency contact number available in case the victim becomes unreachable
  • Providing human resources staff or security with a photo of the abuser
  • Modifying the employee's work schedule or location if possible

A Problem That Should Not Be Ignored

It is estimated that one in four women experience some form of domestic violence in their lifetime. Given how prevalent the problem, you should not assume that it doesn't affect anyone in your staff. A statistic like that is difficult to ignore, and should serve as an opportunity to review your policies and procedures. Does your company's domestic violence prevention and response plan do enough to keep everyone safe?