When Domestic Violence Spills Over into the Workplace
This blog is by guest writer, Ms. Pam Paziotopoulos, Esquire, an attorney and national expert in workplace, domestic, and partner violence. Ms. Paziotopoulos is a Strategic Advisor for The Lake Forest Group.
Domestic Violence Spillover
While we consider the Orlando shootings an act of terrorism, many of us might not think of them as an example of workplace violence. The ex-wife of the shooter told reporters that he was prone to violent behavior and physically abused her. He also isolated her from her family, who worked to persuade her to leave the marriage. This was a case of a domestic situation that escalated into violence that infiltrated the Pulse nightclub. In the also tragic Sandy Hook incident, the shooter took the life of his mother and then went to the school to commit one of the most horrific crimes of our time. Once again, domestic violence infiltrated our society.
What can we do? Of course we can’t prevent all of these incidents, but we can make certain that our workplaces have the tools that we need to do everything in our power to prevent these acts from occurring at our organizations. Do you have policies? Training? Incident management teams? Have you trained your staff to observe and report any behavioral changes of other employees or customers to security? People never snap—there are always pre-incident indicators. As our colleagues at homeland security say, “If you see something, say something.” Taking that extra step to tell someone could save not one life, but many.
Stalking in the Workplace
Traditionally, prosecutors and law enforcement “react” to crimes after they are committed, such as when someone is shot, injured, or murdered. There are few methods that apply techniques to avoid further violence. The mentality is just to “wait.” We know now that there is no time to wait. We must intervene before the violence escalates. It was this mentality that made it difficult for law enforcement, prosecution, and the judiciary to address stalking cases. Initially, we were puzzled by these cases. With other cases, prosecutors have medical records, paramedic reports, photos of crime scenes, photos of victim’s injuries, and the testimony of independent witnesses. However, in many stalking cases, there are no injuries so there are no pictures, no medical records or paramedic reports, and no crime scene photos. Professionals working in this field must refine their interviewing questions to ensure that they are getting sufficient “behaviors of concern” background information on the case. They must strive to gain insight on how far along the offender is on his path to acting out in a violent manner against the victim or other victims.
Some states have passed laws allowing behaviors of concern/risk factors to be introduced in the case to assess the dangerousness of an offender. Ask yourself. Are you prepared? Do you have a comprehensive workplace violence policy that conforms with the recommendations from the FBI, ASIS (American Society for Industrial Security), SHRM (Society for Human Resource Management), and the ABA (American Bar Association)? Do you have a threat management team that is specifically trained on risk assessment and stalking in intimate partner violence cases? Are you creating a culture where your employees feel comfortable divulging information about their unhealthy and possibly dangerous relationships? Make absolutely certain they are communicating that information to your security personnel. It’s the most critical first step in ANY prevention program.
Breaking Up is Hard to Do
A few years back, I had the pleasure of meeting Eugene Rugala, who at the time was the Supervisory Special Agent for the National Center for the Analysis of Violent Crime for the FBI. Gene and I worked on a number of projects together and also analyzed domestic violence homicides. Gene’s division went on to do a formalized study. The results were fairly predictable and solidified what we thought to be true. The homicide generally occurred directly after separating from the abuser. Thus, we know that during the separation the victim enters a dangerous zone. The first question that should be asked in a preliminary risk assessment is “Have you told the abuser that you intend to leave this relationship or have you already curtailed it?”
It is a well-known fact that in most domestic violence homicides the victim had either recently communicated to the perpetrator that the relationship was at an end or had already terminated the relationship. If the answer to this question is “yes,” the employer will know that the victim will be entering (or already has entered) a potentially very dangerous situation. It is imperative that the employer work with the victim to devise a safety plan for home and for work while looking for ways to adjust the victim’s work schedule and/or workload to ensure that the individual is protected arriving to and leaving from work, as well as during work hours.
Tailored Solution for Workplace Violence Prevention and Intervention
The Lake Forest Group provides fully-customized solutions for companies, colleges, and organizations for the prevention and intervention of violence in the workplace. Implementing a comprehensive workplace violence program requires more than drafting a policy—it requires training, communications, and management commitment. We begin each engagement with a needs assessment that outlines the gaps and opportunities in an effective workplace violence prevention and intervention program, tailoring the program to fit the unique needs of each business and leveraging Pam’s extensive experience in workplace and domestic partner violence.