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It’s another workplace safety issue that employers must address

Employee well-being and mental health awareness in the workplace are becoming important topics for many employers, and related programs and policies are becoming popular, in large part due to the pandemic. But often an overlooked aspect of employee well-being is consideration for domestic violence and its impact on the workplace.

Employees may be suffering in silence, missing work or having their job performance suffer as a result of domestic violence. In addition, domestic violence is one of the leading causes of workplace violence when the abuse spills over to the workplace.

Domestic violence occurs between family members or intimate partners through physical, verbal and mental abuse. Actions that are criminal, like assault, sexual assault, criminal threatening, interference with freedom, destruction of property, unauthorized entry, harassment and cruelty to animals are acts of domestic violence as well as isolation, psychological and financial manipulation and other forms of control.

These forms of abuse often lead to trauma that may or may not be apparent to third parties. The trauma and ongoing abuse can create an extremely stressful and overwhelming environment that causes the person experiencing the abuse to be in survival mode. Physical injuries may be obvious, but other signs of abuse are not so apparent.

Examples of control may be the first signs to third parties that someone may be in an abusive relationship. The person abused may also show emotions or behaviors that seem inconsistent with the situation.

For example, the individual may:

• Laugh or smile at inappropriate times

• Over-apologize or apologize for no reason

• Seem distracted or inattentive

• Have memory issues

• Not have access to an individual cellphone

• Not have individual access to money, like a credit or debit card

• Have attendance issues at work because he/she is trying to manage an abusive event or comply with the abuser’s demands

• Strictly adhere to timelines because the abuser monitors his/her comings and goings

• Isolate from people or events

• Receive excessive communications from the abuser

• Not be properly performing his/her job

Resources for victims

Many don’t know that there are resources available to address abuse, and, most importantly, that some are free and confidential. Local police forces are likely the first resource that comes to mind. Police may be the most appropriate contact in certain situations, but not all people experiencing domestic violence are ready for that step. Others are:

• The NH Domestic Violence Hotline (1-866-644-3574), available 24/7 and confidential.

• Twelve crisis centers located throughout the state confidentially provide support and resources to individuals in domestic violence situations, including planning and coordination with housing, financial, medical, legal and other services. The crisis centers can be found at

• Conversations with lawyers are confidential, and New Hampshire has pro bono services, like the Domestic Violence Emergency (DOVE) Project.

• The New Hampshire Circuit Court website also has helpful resources and explains what steps someone needs to take to request a domestic violence protective order, which would prevent contact by the abuser and provide protections to the filer and his/her family. Not all forms of domestic violence are covered by the protective order scheme, but can be addressed in other legal settings.

Proactive employers

Simply put, from a well-being, safety and financial perspective, it is simply bad business to not address domestic violence.

Employers should provide safe workplaces for employees. Statistically, there is a high likelihood that most employers have one or more employees who has or is experiencing domestic violence whose trauma negatively affects the employee’s ability to perform.

Per data from the New Hampshire Coalition Against Domestic Violence, 24 percent of New Hampshire men and 33.4 percent of New Hampshire women have been physically assaulted by an intimate partner.

Prior data from the CDC suggests that the impacts of domestic violence greatly impact the U.S. economy. Specifically, women alone lose roughly 8 million days of paid work — more than 32,000 full-time jobs or $727.8 million — per year due to domestic violence.

Whether it is tracked or not, most employers likely feel the impacts of domestic violence from an employee well-being, safety, productivity, attendance or retention perspective.

Among the steps employers can take are:

• Provide a safe environment for employees with proper security

• Provide information to employees on what domestic violence is and what resources are available to those experiencing domestic violence

• Develop policies that speak to domestic violence with safety protocols and language that is non-judgmental and supportive

• Provide trainings on how to address domestic violence in the workplace with provisions for confidentiality

• Provide trainings on trauma, including how it may impact an individual and ways to address it in the workplace through proper communication and policies

• Be flexible in providing individual accommodations for employees who need support.

Nicole Forbes practices employment law and family law at Manchester-based Sheehan Phinney Bass & Green.

See also