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Navigating Domestic Violence When it Follows You To Work

By: Ashley Lipman

Despite the term “domestic”, relationship violence rarely stays at home. Every year, victims struggle with the impacts of domestic abuse in their career. While workplaces are making strides toward seeing their employees as fully developed human beings with lives outside of work, there’s still a ways to go— especially when promoting the safety of their people.

Here are some practical tips for navigating the impacts of domestic violence when it follows you to work.

Keep Records
If you end up the victim of domestic abuse, it’s never your fault. The only person to blame is the person causing you fear and pain. While you may not be ready to go to your employer and discuss what’s happening, keeping records of occurrences with timestamps will help when that day comes. Furthermore, it starts the process of building a paper trail should you ever wish to pursue charges.

Keep a journal at work that outlines when something happened, the details about what was said and done, and how it impacted your job. It can also be beneficial to dig deeper into your abuser to see if there’s any previous indication of their behavior. You’re well within your rights to find more details. If your partner says that they’ve moved here from Colorado, dive into those Denver County marriage records (learn more here) and see information they may have withheld. If you have concerns, reach out to have a criminal background check put through.

Keeping this information in a safe place at work will help you build a case and better prepare you for when you’re ready to take action. It also limits your abuser’s access to the information while making it easier to direct someone else to it.

Tell Someone Where You’re Going
If you’re meeting a partner with a history of abusive behavior, always tell someone the details of where you’re going, when you expect to be back, and when you’ll update them before stepping out of the office. Setting meetups for your lunch break is a fantastic way to ensure someone is awaiting your return while creating a valid excuse to leave a bad situation.

Watch for Red Flags
It’s estimated that one in three workers have experienced domestic abuse and that the abuse tends to follow them to work in one form or another. Domestic abuse at the workplace isn’t always obvious to onlookers and manifests in subtle, insidious ways.

Some red flags to watch out for include:

  • Excessive phone calls to confirm your location
  • Frequent surprise drop-ins to confirm your location
  • Impacts on job performance
  • Increased lateness, absenteeism, or early departures
  • Employee behavior changes
  • Physical signs of abuse (excessive injuries)

Not only is it important to recognize the red flags in your own experience, but it’s also integral to watch out for your co-workers. Employers and HR professionals should also take the time to recognize these red flags.

Communicate with Your Employer
Domestic abuse and similar behavior (i.e., stalking) can negatively impact one’s job performance. If you find yourself in a situation like this, communicate with your employer and let them know what’s going on. Have this information put on the record to protect your job.

Many victims feel ashamed or embarrassed by their situation and fear that their job security is at risk if they come forward. However, most employers are sympathetic and will help you get out of the situation while protecting your job security.

Lead the Charge with HR
If you feel comfortable doing so, consider talking to your HR representative to discuss what protections are put in place for victims of domestic abuse.

If no safety plans or policies are put in place, lead the charge and take ownership of changing the protocols. Hopefully, you’ll never have to use these resources or go to your employer with an issue. Yet, it’s worth putting this in place for other people who may run into problems while navigating domestic violence and work.

Do what you can to stay safe, and use work as a resource to keep you and your co-workers protected.

Jacqueline "Jackie" Annis is an industrial hygienist with the Office of Partnerships and Recognition, Directorate of Cooperative and State Programs in OSHA’s National Office.  Jackie’s primary responsibilities include developing and overseeing internal policies and procedures for the VPP, reviewing VPP on-site evaluation reports for process safety management information, serving as the National Office liaison for two of OSHA’s ten Regions, and facilitating the management of OSHA’s National Strategic Partnership Program.  She is an integral part of OSHA’s National Office team. 

She has served with the Agency for 36 years, including five years as a senior industrial hygienist in OSHA’s Office of Health Enforcement, Directorate of Enforcement Programs in the National Office and 17 years as a compliance safety and health officer in the Denver, CO Area Office.  Prior to her tenure at OSHA, Jackie worked as an industrial hygienist for the Department of the Navy in Alameda, California.  Jackie obtained a Bachelor of Science degree from Old Dominion University in Norfolk, VA in 1983.

Wayne Howard earned a B.S. in Chemical Engineering from UC Davis and has spent 12 years with Shell (at Martinez) refinery, 3 years with the consulting firm Process Safety, 15 years with Valero (at Benicia), and the last 10 years in the Corporate Process Safety Department. He is the Valero representative to AFPM's Advancing Process Safety Initiative.

Nathan Obaugh, PE is a senior engineer in the Safety and Operational Excellence Group at NuStar Energy. Nathan has over 10 years of PSM and process design experience in the petrochemical, refining and midstream industries. At NuStar, Nathan oversees all elements of the corporate PSM program and works directly on hazard analysis, process safety studies, PSM/RMP audits and provides process engineering support to the operations and capital projects groups.

Jared Teter, PhD is a senior staff scientist with a background in physics and hazards analysis. He has extensive experience in subscale testing of energetic materials and has served as program manager for several large testing and risk management projects. He has applied engineering and risk management protocols while evaluating the risk associated with propellant and explosives manufacturing, combustible dust, and other hazardous material related processes.

Tim Belitz has a degree in Environmental Health/Industrial Hygiene from Old Dominion University and a Master’s from Duke University. He has over 25 years of Industrial Health Safety and Environmental Experience and is a Certified Safety Professional. He has many years focused on Contractor Management and Process Safety programs.

Rob Walker graduated from Virginia Tech in Microbiology and Chemical Engineering. Rob has almost 35 years of experience working in the chemical plant and refining industry. His passion for Process Safety and Mechanical Integrity began very early in his career. Rob began with his current company, Honeywell, back in 2011.

Prasad Joshi has B.S. and M.S. Degrees in Chemical Engineering from two universities in India. Prasad has over 30 years’ experience in the business. He began with Honeywell in May 2022 as Principal Maintenance Engineer. He has worked internationally in Asia and Europe.