You notice your co-worker, Judy, has been late to work twice this week. Under her makeup are traces of a black eye and a bruise on her arm that she tries to keep hidden under long sleeves. You are concerned that she’s being abused, but what can you do to help? What are the privacy boundaries in something like this?
As many as 75% of domestic violence victims are harassed at work by the abusers who are making their lives a living hell. The abuser exerts control over the victim by either preventing the victim from getting to work on time or not letting them go to work at all in hopes they’ll lose their job. They will refuse to let the victim sleep, won’t help with child care, turn off or destroy the alarm clock that will get the victim up. Sometimes they even injure the victim before they leave for work in hopes of controlling them. When the victim does get to work, they stalk them. They show up unannounced, sit in the parking lot watching the building, they call constantly and send threatening emails. Violence at home can spread to the workplace. A violent spouse or significant other can harass and threaten their partner and fellow employees that the abuser thinks is helping the victim.
However, there are some things that you can do to help. Work is sometimes the only place where their abuser isn’t. Approach your co-worker in a non-threatening and concerned manner. Privately ask if they need help. Share your concerns for their well-being and safety. If they want to talk, listen but don’t force yourself on them. Let them know there are places to seek help and someone they can talk to. Place pamphlets and hang posters around about domestic violence. Have a list of local and national support phone numbers handy. By having this information displayed, some victims will feel more comfortable about taking the information than getting anyone involved. Some employees are afraid to talk about being abused. They want to protect their reputation and their job. They may also be concerned for their co-workers safety if the abuser has threatened. Sometimes, unfortunately, they even may want to protect the abuser.
If your co-worker does want help, you can help them in several ways. You can help them obtain a restraining order that is current. You can suggest that they save any threatening emails or voice messages to be used in court. They can also be used for evidence if the restraining order is violated. Make sure their parking arrangements are safe. You can always arrange to have someone or a group walk them to their car to ensure their safety. And finally, make sure you have an emergency contact person that you can contact if no one can reach them.
If the abuser really is a dangerous threat, assure the co-worker that others will be told of their situation on a need to know basis only to assure the safety of everyone. See if your place of business will provide any type of training on workplace violence situations. By having the information and knowing what to do if a potential situation arises, everyone will be able to handle it if something occurs.
By being informed and aware, you can make a difference in someone’s life if the opportunity arises.