Workplace violence is a concern for almost every business, manager, and human resources department. Although it is a phenomenon that affects men more than women, organizations should pay special attention to workplace violence’s unique impact on female employees. After all, according to the Department of Justice over 250,000 women are victims of workplace violence each year. Moreover, the threats facing women are often different from those facing men, and policies implemented to protect males will not necessarily be as effective in protecting females.
For example, workplace rape and sexual assault are much more likely to affect women and, according to the DOJ, as many as 1 in 10,000 employees have become victims of these crimes. Furthermore, much of the violence that affects women occurs in sectors that most people view as relatively safe1. For instance, females working in healthcare, education, and social welfare, are at increased risk of workplace violence. According to Albany University’s Center for Women in Government, two-thirds of nonfatal attacks against women were committed in hospitals, nursing homes, and other social service facilities.
The perpetrators of violence against women also tend to be different than those affecting men. For example, women are twice as likely as men to be harmed by someone they know. Of all workplace homicides against women, 15% to 20% are committed by husbands, boyfriends, or former romantic interests. According to the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health, intimate partners resulted in 142 homicides against women at work between the years of 2003 and 2008.
What Employers Can Do
Fortunately, there are several things firms can do in order to protect women at work, especially those at risk of intimate partner violence. Firstly, firms should take a zero-tolerance policy towards aggressive behavior in the workplace, whether this behavior originates from employees, customers, visitors, or supervisors. Secondly, it is important that companies let their workers know that they can seek help from management if they feel they are at risk of violence from a current or former intimate partner. If an employee feels threatened or stalked, firms should ask the victim to provide the security department with copies of the restraining order, and encourage victims to report infractions to the police. If the employee does not have a restraining order, businesses should consider assisting the victim in obtaining one. Additionally, companies should encourage employees to provide a picture of the abuser to the security section. Supervisors should also understand that employees might need some flexibility during these difficult times.
It is commonly recognized that employers should concern themselves with the welfare of their employees even if the threats and abuse take place outside work. After all, workers facing these conditions often have lower morale and are less productive on the job. Furthermore, violence at home can easily spill over into violence at the workplace, making a threat to an employee a potential threat to the firm. By giving special consideration to how violence uniquely impacts women, businesses can ensure that their protective policies are truly comprehensive.
1It should be noted that there is an exception to this rule as more women have been victims in of homicide while working in security services than any other industry.