How Domestic Violence Affects the Workplace

Each year, 5.3 million acts of domestic violence occur against women 18 and older, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control. In fact, every minute, nearly 20 people are physically abused by an intimate partner.

Domestic violence is verbal, physical or sexual abuse by current or former intimate partners. It is rarely an isolated incident. While abuse may start with name calling, it usually intensifies over time and can escalate to life-threatening attacks. In fact, one-in-four women experience severe physical violence by an intimate partner in their lifetime.

This violence rarely stays at home. At work, victims continue to suffer abuse which often results in a profound impact on their careers.

Of those who suffer from domestic violence, 74% of employed victims have been harassed by their partner while at work. This translates to about 20,000 workers being threatened or attacked in the workplace each year by their partners, often in the form of threatening phone calls, e-mails, or even by their partner coming into their workplace and harassing them and their co-workers.

This abuse effects the victim’s productivity, performance, attendance, and ultimately, their potential for raises or promotion within the company. Victims will more often need to take sick days as a result of the violent acts they regularly suffer, leading to lost wages and economic hardship. About 54% of employed victims miss at least three full days of work a month. Overall, victims of domestic violence lose an estimated $975 million of wages just in days absent from work. Moreover, due to the impact to their performance, nearly 30% of working victims lose their jobs as a direct result of their domestic violence situation.

Co-workers of victims are also affected. They typically have lower productivity for needing to cover for victims and do extra work and are often concerned for their own safety, especially in cases where the abuser makes visits to the office.

Suffice to say, the abuse from domestic violence takes a toll not only on the physical and mental health of the victims and those close to them, but on their and their company’s income and the general economy as well.

Every year in the U.S., an estimated 1,200 women are killed by an intimate partner, and another two-million sustain serious injuries, over 500,000 of which require medical attention. General costs from domestic violence in the U.S. range from $10 – $67 billion each year. According to the Family Violence Prevention Fund, this results in a yearly cost to businesses of $4.1 billion in health-care related services for victims, plus $727.8 million in productivity losses.

Apart from domestic violence being bad for business, companies have a moral responsibility to provide a safe workplace for their employees. However, while homicide by intimate partners is the leading cause of workplace death among female employees, over 70% of workplaces in the U.S. have no formal program or policy that address domestic violence.

There are a lot of steps businesses can take to help insure the safety of its employees. From simple initiatives like flexible working hours and screening phone calls, to raising awareness about domestic abuse and teaching employees to recognize the signs and reach out to victims. By creating policies on dealing with domestic violence, the workplace can become a refuge for victims and a vital location for support and resources on how to stay safe and report abuse.

Ashleen Knutsen is a science writer and editor in Los Angeles. After a decade of experience in engineering and research, she decided to pursue a career in science communications to not only spark women and girls’ interest in STEM, but to let them know that they too can change the world.

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