October is domestic violence awareness month.  While domestic violence isn’t a new issue, the recent news about the actions of NFL players has brought it back to the forefront.  And that’s the only good news about it.

Like it or not, HR professionals see abused employees.  My first on-the-job experience with it was also my most difficult.  I had just started working in HR when I met with an employee to talk about her attendance issues.  During that meeting, she confided that she was being physically abused by her boyfriend.  Despite my efforts to get her into a shelter or to counseling, or the police, she refused to go.  It was a real lesson for me in understanding just how common domestic violence is, how serious the outcome may be, and how difficult those patterns are to change.

So, how should HR professionals help abused employees?  Here are some steps that I recommend:

  1. Be vigilant:  Unexplained bruises, erratic absences, and other abnormal behavior can all be signs of abuse.  Watch for them.
  2. Offer Help:  If you suspect an abuse situation exists, offer confidential support.  If your organization provides an EAP program, make a referral.
  3. Encourage Action:  Strongly encourage the employee to seek help.  Domestic violence doesn’t get better by tolerating it; make certain the employee understands he/she has options and offer to make the first call with him/her.  Repeat this step as often as necessary.
  4. Get help:  If you think an employee is in danger, call the police.
  5. Plan ahead:  Have an emergency plan for the workplace.  My biggest fear has always been the potential for violence from a jealous significant other.

There are also a couple of things that you shouldn’t do.  They include:

  1. Don’t try to be a psychiatrist, get the employee to a professional as soon as you can.
  2. NEVER offer to provide housing for an abused employee.  You will be putting you and your family in danger.

HR professionals are in the unique situation of being able to observe details of an employee’s performance and behavior over extended periods of time.  This can help to identify when there is a change for the worst in an employee’s life situation.  Hopefully if we’re observant, we can provide our employees with the help that they need.

That’s what great HR people do.

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