How should an employer respond if an employee is experiencing relationship violence? What if the partner has threatened the employee at work?
Employers must consider these situations because relationship violence in the workplace is more prevalent than it may seem. According to statistics cited by the National Domestic Violence Hotline
, 44 percent of adults employed on a full-time basis in the United States have reported domestic violence in their workplace, and 96 percent of employed domestic violence victims have faced problems at work due to the abuse. Relationship violence poses a threat to any employee experiencing abuse, as well as to co-workers and others who intervene to help.
Educational institutions across the country -- and their designated Title IX Coordinators -- routinely handle these types of situations. Examining safety measures employed in the Title IX context can inform all employers' actions to support employees and to prevent workplace violence.
A. What is Title IX?
Title IX is a federal law that prohibits sex discrimination, including sexual harassment, in education programs and activities that receive federal financial assistance. Prohibited sexual harassment includes sexual assault, dating violence, domestic violence, and stalking.
Title IX Coordinators oversee reports of sex discrimination/sexual harassment and address related problems. This article focuses on supportive measures and campus safety considerations routinely employed in the Title IX context as a potential resource/method for employers to address workplace violence issues.
B. Title IX Strategies and Resources
In responding to reports of relationship violence, Title IX Coordinators implement supportive measures including counseling, extensions of deadlines or other course-related adjustments, modifications of work or class schedules, restrictions on contact between the parties, leaves of absence, and enhanced security, among others, to deter sexual harassment and to protect the safety of parties involved and the campus environment. Parties are also informed about off-campus support services, how to report criminal behavior to police and obtain civil protective orders, and safety planning.
Title IX Coordinators also collaborate with threat assessment teams such as security officers, human resources directors, and student affairs on campus safety procedures. Measures employed include:
- Restricting campus access by third parties;
- Increasing security patrols or law enforcement presence;
- Obtaining a photograph or physical description of the offender;
- Receiving a copy of the protective order obtained by a reporting party;
- Developing an individualized safety plan;
- Providing campus escort services;
- Relocating campus housing or offices for enhanced security;
- Using campus alert/notification systems to share emergency response protocols and safety reminders campus-wide (e.g., lock doors and windows, walk in well-lit areas, keep mobile phone charged and available, add campus security numbers to speed dial, notify trusted friends of plans, use a buddy system when going out);
- Directing campus members to report suspicious activity to campus officials; and
- Notifying police of campus-related threats for investigation.
Schools also conduct Title IX training on relationship abuse, learning the warning signs, and intervention strategies.
C. Relationship Violence and the Workplace
Employers, much like educational institutions, must be ready -- and, in fact, may be legally required -- to respond when relationship violence touches the workplace. The Department of Labor ("DOL") provides a business-based reason to be prepared: workplace violence comes with staggering costs, including loss of productivity and morale, increased expenses for security, personnel, and workers' compensation, serious psychological consequences, and loss of life.
According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration ("OSHA"), any act or threat of violence, harassment, intimidation, or similarly disruptive behavior that occurs at the worksite is workplace violence. As a result, relationship abuse that occurs at work is workplace violence. Employers governed by OSHA must have a workplace violence prevention program that includes employee training and appropriate controls in place.
Employers can leverage the Title IX framework in their own workplaces including:
- Informing the employee about national and local support resources for seeking help. This may include services like the National Domestic Violence Hotline, or local resources like family services and rape crisis centers that help survivors of relationship abuse and assault to obtain protective orders, shelter, legal assistance, counseling, and other services;
- Ensuring employees know about any employer-sponsored Employee Assistance Programs;
- Developing familiarity with how to report incidents to law enforcement and obtain a civil protective order;
- Developing flexible policies for employees dealing with violence, including time off work or leave to obtain a protective order or attend criminal proceedings, and providing family and medical leave or sick time, as applicable, if an employee or family member has been injured;
- Developing a workplace safety plan for the employee, e.g., relocating to an interior office, assigning a new work telephone number and office, arranging for security to escort the employee to his or her vehicle, assigning the employee a parking space near the building entrance/exit;
- Identifying methods and times for communicating safely with the employee outside work;
- Obtaining a description or photograph of the offender for use by security or reception personnel;
- Forming a workplace threat assessment team for review, assistance, and outreach to supervisors;
- Engaging or increasing security patrols or law enforcement presence at or around the workplace;
- Notifying employees to report suspicious behavior to security or a designated official;
- Training employees on workplace safety expectations, e.g., reporting lost or missing access cards/badges, shutting exterior doors and windows, not sharing facility access codes, following visitor sign-in requirements, alerting security or designated officials to suspicious behavior/activity, and following emergency response protocols that include when and how to safely evacuate, hide in place, or take other action for their protection;
- Consulting with risk management agents available through workplace violence insurance policies;
- Reporting imminent threats to law enforcement for investigation; and
- Maintaining periodic check-ins with the employee regarding the status of the situation.
By implementing these types of safety measures as appropriate, all employers can support their employees and deter workplace violence caused by relationship abuse.
D. Special State Laws for Employees Experiencing Domestic Violence
Certain states and localities have laws that protect employees experiencing domestic violence. In North Carolina, employers with 15 or more employees must provide reasonable time off work to seek a domestic violence protective order. The law also enables employers to obtain no-contact orders on behalf of employees for unlawful contact carried out at the workplace.
Pennsylvania makes it unlawful for employers to retaliate against an employee for attending criminal court when the employee is a victim of, or a witness to, a crime or is a family member of the victim. The City of Philadelphia requires employers to give leave to employees to address domestic violence directed at employees or their family.
Numerous states and localities have also implemented paid sick and safe leave laws that apply to domestic violence and other forms of abuse, in addition to physical and mental health.
It is critical that employers have proactively considered how to address workplace violence before an event arises. Title IX provides a framework for employers to use in developing their own workplace violence prevention program. Employers seeking additional information on how to develop a successful workplace violence prevention program should consult with their legal counsel.