When Domestic Violence Spills into the Workplace
October 18, 2011
by Kent Perkins
Dorothy said it best in The Wizard of Oz: “There’s no place like home.”
But when home becomes a dangerous place, instead of a safe-haven, where does one turn? Abusers and stalkers often feel the need to control their victims’ lives, and find ways to make their frightening presence known wherever their victims go--including the workplace.
Domestic violence and stalking victims are constantly fearful and distracted.They’re exhausted from lack of sleep, they don’t know where to turn, and needless to say, their work suffers. They can’t focus on their jobs, as they have so much “bigger fish to fry.” Their concern isn’t unwarranted, either; according to the U.S. Department of Labor statistics, domestic homicide is the leading cause of death for women in the workplace.
Contrary to popular belief, the majority of stalking victims are not celebrities.According to a University of Michigan study, 1.4 million people in the United States are stalked annually. Further, most stalkers are not strangers, but rather people with whom the victims are familiar. Although 95% of reported stalking cases involve women victimized by men, the reverse can happen as well. No one is immune.
Stalking is a pattern of unwanted contact which can be imposed upon anyone at anytime, regardless of the relationship between the stalker and victim. A victim can be stalked by someone with whom they were previously romantically involved, or even by someone with whom they are currently involved. Whereas not all stalkers are abusers, a reported 31% of women who are stalked by an intimate partner are also sexually assaulted by that partner.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation estimates that a woman suffers a beating somewhere in the United States every nine seconds. The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence estimates that between six and 10 million women are abused by current or former partners each year. According to a Michigan Department of Social Services study, an alarming 56% of these victims were harassed by their abusers while at work. The effects of domestic violence are far-reaching, and don’t discontinue just because a victim leaves home and goes to the workplace. Don’t let your employees add to the alarming statistics and fall victim to the leading cause of death of women in the workplace: homicide.
Under Federal law, every employer is responsible for providing a safe workplace. If you have employees whom you suspect are being stalked, abused, or harassed, you can, and should, quickly and affirmatively intervene to protect them. Don’t wait until it’s too late.
First, move potential stalking victims to areas where they wouldn’t be easy to find, should intruders enter the workplace looking for them. Allow no outside communication with the victims via telephone, keeping them away from land lines as well as their own cellular phones during the critical time. Change job assignments, if possible, sending them elsewhere, such as taking inventory in a warehouse where they are not normally assigned.
In California, a few years ago, a new law was implemented to allow employers to seek and obtain restraining orders from courts on behalf of harassed or stalked employees; this can be done with or without the cooperation of a suspected victim, in the interest of providing a safe workplace. Outside California, this may also be an option of the employer; it’s a question worth asking your labor and employment counsel.
There has been debate as to whether a Temporary Restraining Order (“TRO”) or a similar court injunction is a good thing, or not.Some may feel it could incite the recipient to an even a higher degree of agitation and potential violence. That may be true to some extent, but one should also consider the fact that, in the absence of a court order or TRO, the police would have no reason to respond to your company until after a violent act has occurred. Simple cases of trespassing are not considered emergencies; violation of court orders, however, is a felony and almost always generates exigent response from the police.
The manner in which the TRO is delivered to the suspected stalker or harasser can make a huge difference in how it is received. Delivery and service of a TRO or permanent injunction should, whenever possible, be performed by a professional investigator with experience in handling the delicate psychological dynamics. Truly competent practitioners can diffuse, rather than incite, the potential for violence.
If additional security is warranted, and it often is, it should be implemented covertly and quietly, even invisibly, if possible.“Plain clothes” security can actually provide a real layer of protection without giving the stalker “something to respond to” in the form of newly-placed, uniformed, armed guards. Putting “hired guns” out in front of your workplace, in uniform, can be seen as a challenge to the suspect, and can actually lead to violent reactions from potentially dangerous, already unstable, people.
Surveillance can be an option, too. Strategically placing covert investigators near the entrances and exits can, and will, prevent unwelcome intrusions leading to violence in the workplace. Encourage your employees to bring you their most pressing problems, even if they don’t relate directly to work. Always make time to listen to a problem, no matter how “insignificant” it may be; the days of “sounds like a personal problem to me” are over. There is no distinction between a personal problem and a work issue, especially when the two directly affect one another to the highest degree.
For more information regarding how to take the first steps toward gathering the necessary evidence and protecting yourself, whether through surveillance, personal protection services, or assistance with obtaining a restraining order, form a partnership with your legal counsel and a competent outside investigation agency qualified to step in at a moment’s notice. It can be a matter of life or death.
It’s recommended that you perform your due diligence and retain a licensed private investigation firm specializing in helping employers and their legal counsel successfully deal with all types of workplace malfeasance. Our Domestic Investigation Services Division is a wholly owned subsidiary specializing in intervention, investigation, and service of court orders related to all types of domestic issues affecting families and workplaces across the United States and abroad.
About the Author
Kent Perkins is a senior executive investigator with the firm of Diversified Risk Management, Inc. (DRM), a licensed, nationwide investigation firm. He has over 30 years of experience in conducting workplace investigations throughout North America. The firm offers a broad range of specialized risk management and corporate investigation services that are designed to minimize exposure. Mr. Perkins assists corporations and law firms in identifying, mitigating, and responding to risks through a comprehensive suite of professional service offerings. Mr. Perkins can be reached at 800.810.9508 or by e-mail.