When domestic violence doesn’t stay at home

A nurse is leaving the skilled nursing facility (SNF) where she is employed. She’s met in the parking lot by her angry husband who is facing the custody loss of his children in a divorce. He shoots his wife in front of her co-workers and residents.

At another SNF, an intoxicated boyfriend shows up and attacks his girlfriend, an employee, in the parking lot, accusing her of cheating on him with a co-worker.

I wish I could tell you that these are scenes from a fictitious television series, but they aren’t. These are real incidents that occurred at real long-term care facilities against real staff members. And these are just a few of the many incidents we are aware of.

Domestic violence is quickly becoming a major concern for healthcare professionals. More and more, abusive spouses/partners are showing up at the healthcare facility, knowing that access is easy, usually unrestricted and sometimes not monitored by video security. This ease of access combined with the element of surprise often gives them the upper hand. And these events are not only a threat to the target employee, they also place every employee and resident at risk.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), one in every four women and one in 10 men will experience domestic violence in their lifetime. The Department of Labor reports that victims of domestic violence lose nearly 8 million days of paid work per year in the United States, resulting in a $1.8 billion loss in productivity for employers. The CDC also reported that an estimated 1.3 million women are victims of physical assault by an intimate partner each year.

Yet, 65 percent of companies don’t have a formal workplace domestic violence prevention policy, according to research conducted by the Society for Human Resource Management(SHRM), and only 20 percent offer training on domestic violence.

In my consulting visits, I find myself auditing client safety policies as a matter of routine service. I have been encouraged to see many long-term care facilities and communities developing written workplace violence prevention programs. Yet, few of them have recognized the risk of domestic violence in the workplace, and even fewer have addressed it as a matter of policy or practice.

Domestic violence can no longer be considered a “family matter.” It is a workplace vulnerability that must be addressed the same as any other risk or vulnerability to the business and its employees and residents. And, like most all programs, it starts with a written policy. Some companies choose to develop stand-alone written programs addressing domestic violence, while others incorporate domestic violence as a sub-section of a greater workplace violence prevention plan.

All policies about domestic violence at the workplace should include:

  • Conduct that occurs off-duty
  • Security concerns
  • Violations of an employment agreement or other condition of employment
  • Non-actionable conduct that nonetheless needs to be addressed because knowledge regarding the issue is raising concerns or otherwise disrupting the work environment
  • The employer’s acknowledgement that domestic violence happens and may impact the workplace, and that employers will do what they can to accommodate those experiencing it

Most victims, regardless of gender, prefer to keep domestic problems private. However, the responsibility for coming forward lies with the employee, so the plan must strongly encourage employees to come forward and report when they are the victim of domestic violence.

Last summer, I worked with a hospital in Virginia that had implemented a policy mandating the reporting of domestic violence as a condition of employment. Not being a lawyer, I can’t comment on the legality of this move, but I am sure first in line as a cheerleader for their efforts.

To be proactive and minimize the risk of an act of domestic violence finding its way into your community, I suggest:

  • Develop an effective written plan
  • Create a committee (or a sub-committee within the Safety Committee) to provide leadership on the initiative
  • Develop a reporting system that makes every attempt to respect the employee’s privacyProvide training. Employees need to realize this is something you are doing for them, not to them.
  • Develop steps that can be taken to protect the employee in the building and on the grounds. This could include special parking privileges, a change in assigned work area, escorts into and out of the building, security presence on the campus and/or the use of alarms/alert systems.
  • Build awareness. We have been successful at getting many of our long-term care clients to hold annual “safety fairs” to focus on workplace safety issues. Workplace violence (and domestic violence) should be a part of that event. And, in most communities, there are organizations that will gladly come in and be a part of your event at no cost.

Domestic violence is a serious issue that costs hundreds of innocent victims their lives every year and costs employers billions in lost work time. It cannot be taken lightly, and no employer is immune from the risk. Now is the time to be building your program—not after an incident has already impacted your facility.

Stay safe and stay in touch!

Steve Wilder, BA, CHSP, STS is President and COO of Sorensen, Wilder & Associates (SWA), a healthcare safety and security consulting group based in Bradley, Illinois. A board-certified Healthcare Safety Professional, he is the co-author of the book “The Essentials of Aggression Management in Healthcare: From Talkdown to Takedown.” He can be reached at 800-568-2931 or at swilder@swa4safety.com.

Topics: Executive Leadership , Risk Management