How does domestic violence affect a woman’s career?

office flowers

When a woman is living in an abusive situation, her home is often a dangerous and stressful place. But the impact of domestic violence on her career is an important factor often not talked about. 

Domestic violence and the workplace

Working outside the home may provide some relief for women, but the abuser can often turn her workplace into an unsafe and stressful environment for her and her coworkers. Even though she may be physically away from her abuser, the abuser may still know where she works and stalk her. He may send abusive messages, show up at the workplace, or call her repeatedly. The abuser may also become violent during work time. 

The domestic violence she’s living with may cause the woman to be distracted while at work, which negatively affects her job performance. Her productivity may be affected. She may also be late or absent from work often, all of which can mean she has a higher chance of losing her job. 

What can employers and coworkers do?

If you suspect that your employee or co-worker is being abused, there are some things you can do to help.

1. Recognize the signs.

The first step is to understand the signs of abuse. The following are signs to look out for; but it’s important not to jump to conclusions. Someone can also show some of these signs if they aren’t in an abusive relationship.

  • Do you see bruises or cuts? Has your co-worker had broken bones, or sudden hearing loss? 
  • Have you noticed that her job performance has been affected? Is she making more mistakes, absent or late more often, or having trouble concentrating?
  • Is she working late more often so she doesn’t have to go home?
  • Is she more anxious, depressed, or fearful?
  • Has she hinted about a troubled home life, or is she hesitant to talk about her home life?
  • Has she said she’s afraid of losing her job?
  • Is she dressed inappropriately for the season, such as wearing turtlenecks in the summer or heavy makeup?
  • Is she receiving unwanted visits or phone calls?
  • Is she receiving gifts or flowers at work after a suspected violent argument?

2. Talk to her.

Find a quiet time and let her know that you’re concerned for her, in a supportive and non-judgmental way. Tell her what you’ve noticed and stick to the facts, without trying to fix the situation. Ask her if she’s OK or if she’d like to talk. You’ll be showing your support in a way that is safe and comfortable for her. 

3. Tell her you believe her.

Reassure her that you believe her and that the abuse isn’t her fault.

4. Don’t pressure her.

She may deny the abuse or be unwilling to talk about it. Continue to let her know that she can come to you anytime. If she does want to talk, listen patiently.

5. Give her some resources.

Refer her to a support network for domestic violence. Does your workplace have an employee assistance program, or some other designated person or group that can help? This might be a union steward, women’s advocate, human resources department or health and safety representative. 

6. Don’t promise to keep it strictly confidential.

If you are concerned, you may need to go to your designed work representative, but be sure to keep it between the three of you.

For her safety, sometimes a woman has to leave her job when she leaves an abusive situation. Unfortunately, leaving a job suddenly can impact a woman’s ability to get another job in the future.

To address this and other abuse-related barriers to employment, Interval House’s Building Economic Self-Sufficiency (BESS) program helps women to start over, gain financial independence, and start to build or rebuild their careers. They learn how to write a resume and a cover letter, conduct a job search, prepare for an interview, and how to balance work and parenting. They learn how to make the most of the skills they already have, where they can get additional education, and how to work toward their personal goals.

Image credit: J. Dimas, Creative Commons Attribution 2.0