<p>A tragic byproduct of the COVID-19 pandemic has been an increase in the frequency of domestic violence. Likewise, domestic violence carries over to the workplace, which has real impacts on employees’ safety and attendance. In this episode of Honest HR, host Amber Clayton speaks with Tom Manion, Director of<a href="https://www.montgomerycountymd.gov/fjc/"> Montgomery County Maryland’s Family Justice Center</a>, who shares advice for employees on coming forward about domestic violence, the resources for employers to protect and empower employees and what employers should have in place to support employees who may be experiencing domestic violence.<br /><br /><b>Earn SHRM PDCs for Listening to This Episode<br /></b>Episodes of Honest HR help you build your competencies while also earning professional development credits (PDCs) toward your SHRM-CP or SHRM-SCP recertification. All relevant details, including the Activity IDs, are provided during the episode.</p><p>This episode of Honest HR is sponsored by <a href="https://www.namely.com/">Namely</a>.</p>
A tragic byproduct of the COVID-19 pandemic has been an increase in the frequency of domestic violence. Likewise, domestic violence carries over to the workplace, which has real impacts on employees’ safety and attendance. In this episode of Honest HR, host Amber Clayton speaks with Tom Manion, Director of Montgomery County Maryland’s Family Justice Center, who shares advice for employees on coming forward about domestic violence, the resources for employers to protect and empower employees and what employers should have in place to support employees who may be experiencing domestic violence.
Earn SHRM PDCs for Listening to This Episode
Episodes of Honest HR help you build your competencies while also earning professional development credits (PDCs) toward your SHRM-CP or SHRM-SCP recertification. All relevant details, including the Activity IDs, are provided during the episode.
This episode of Honest HR is sponsored by Namely.
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Welcome to Honest HR, the podcast for all of us HR professionals, people managers, and team leads intent on growing and developing our companies for the better. We bring you honest, forward thinking conversations and relatable stories from the workplace that challenge the way it's always been done because after all, you have to push back to move forward.
Honest HR is a podcast from SHRM, the Society for Human Resource Management, and by listening, you're helping create better workplaces and a better world. I'm Wendy Fong.
I'm Amber Clayton.
Gloria Sinclair Miller:
And I am Gloria Sinclair Miller.
Now let's get honest.
Gloria Sinclair Miller:
Now let's get honest.
Hello, everyone, and welcome back. I'm your host, Amber Clayton, director of SHRM's Knowledge Center. On our episode today, we're going to start part one of our miniseries on the technical competency, HR expertise, risk management, when domestic violence enters the workplace. This podcast is approved to provide recertification, PDCs, but only if you listen to the full miniseries.
The COVID-19 pandemic has had a huge impact on work, workers, and the workplace. People lost jobs, children attended school virtually, parents were juggling work and childcare. Some became ill with COVID-19. Some were caring for others with it. And many lost their lives. There was also a rise in mental health issues. SHRM research last year showed that one out of four people were feeling down, depressed, and hopeless. All of these issues and more have contributed to an increase in domestic violence across the US, especially with more people working remotely.
For many of them, going to work provides some respite from things happening at home. According to the CDC, the Centers for Disease Control, about one in four women and nearly one in 10 men have experienced sexual violence, physical violence, and/ or stalking by an intimate partner during their lifetime, and reported some form of intimate partner violence related impact. And it's gotten worse during the pandemic. Intimate partner violence, or IPV, is considered by the CDC as any abuse or aggression in a romantic relationship, including physical violence, sexual violence, stalking and/or psychological aggression.
As many of us know, domestic violence doesn't always stay at home. It carries over into the workplace, which is why we're discussing this important issue today. I'm pleased to be joined by Tom Manion, Family Justice Center director of the Montgomery County Office of the Sheriff in Maryland. Welcome, Tom.
Thank you. Thank you for having me, Amber.
Thank you for joining us on this really important issue. I'm glad that you're able to join us. I know that October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month, but I feel like every month should be awareness month, especially in the time that we're in right now. So Tom, tell us a little bit about yourself and your role with the Montgomery County Office of the Sheriff.
Sure. So I serve as the director for the Montgomery County Family Justice Center, which is administrated by the Montgomery County Office of the Sheriff. Now what the Family Justice Center is, is basically a co-location of a lot of different county agencies and local nonprofits, all of whom kind of have a role to play in victim services. This whole model's based on the fact that there's no single agency, or program, or entity working alone that can meet the entirety of a victim's needs. And so what we've done is we get everyone together, we put everyone under one roof, and we have that building serve as a walk in facility for victims and their children to receive services. And all of our services are completely free.
So as the director, I'm sort of responsible for the overall coordination, making sure everyone is working together, working collaboratively, and for just the day to day operations of the center. I have a master's degree in forensic psychology. I've done a lot of work in suicide prevention. And I've been working with the sheriff's office for the past eight years, and I've been the director of the FJC for the past five.
Wow. So what is it that made you decide to get into this field?
Like I said, I have my degree in forensic psychology. And I had the opportunity during my graduate work to intern at the US Naval Criminal Investigative Service, or NCIS. And I was placed in the family and sexual violence division. And I learned a great deal about the prevalence of this issue and how much it occurs behind closed doors, and that no one was really talking about it, or at least when you were talking about it, it was in the form of discussing a TV show or one of those crime procedurals.
But really, the fact was, the reality was, this was happening all over the place. And what I found most striking about it was that it was something that occurs across racial divides, across economic divides. It's something that impacts everyone equally, regardless of who you are or what your demographics are. And then as you look into it a little more, I was noticing that it was an issue that was impacting everyone equally, but that again based off of what community you come from, or what resources you had access to, there were these barriers for different groups of people to receive services. Maybe they didn't speak the language. Maybe they didn't live in the right area. Maybe their area wasn't populated enough.
And so when I saw that and sort of the injustice of all of that, it really made me want to get involved in this issue. It also is not lost on me that there are not a lot of men involved in this issue, and so that is something that it was important to me that as a man who was interested in exploring this issue from a prevention and a services perspective that I take that opportunity and I take that initiative.
Well, I definitely commend you. I'm sure that you have run into some challenging issues and situations, especially with this being a walk in facility. Can you tell me a little bit about maybe a challenging issue that you had, or a rewarding experience while working in this area?
Oh, absolutely. It's tough to work in this type of field and not have an experience every day that is something you've never seen before. Anytime you think you've seen it all, something else comes through the door, or someone else comes through the door with a different story or a different scenario. And I think what is most rewarding for me is with the nature of our center, we make sure that people are safe in the immediate term. We make sure they're safe. We make sure that they have access to all different legal avenues that are available to them. We hook them up with an attorney and a counselor, a therapist.
And then once we make those connections and we really empower them, we might not ever see them again. We don't do that kind of continuous followup in the years and years down the road. But all the time here at the center, and usually around holiday times, we will get cards from former clients. And just sitting there and reading a card from a client that says, "Listen, I was nearly killed by my partner. I came into your center the next day, I didn't think you were going to be able to help me, but you did, and now I have my own place, I have a job. I'm going back to school at night. My kids are doing great. I'm dating again, or I'm taking care of a family member at home now. And life is continuing to happen, but my life has moved on from that abusive person. Life has gone on. I have gone on." And watching how people can flourish when they're not under the boot of someone who's trying to abuse them, it's so rewarding, so rewarding.
I can understand that. In the Knowledge Center, we get numerous inquiries from our members. Our members are HR professionals primarily, or people who have HR related responsibilities. And each year, we get questions around domestic violence issues in the workplace. We've been asked what do to when a husband and wife work together and they have protective orders against each one another. We've had members call us for situations where the spouse has threatened to come to the workplace and harm the employee. We've had members who suspect their employee is being abused. When we talk to these individuals, we don't have that ability to be able to see these individuals in person, but we hear the stories just like you do. And they are different, and we try to provide help and guidance where we can to help these employers and the HR professionals navigate these particular situations. And we do get members who provide us feedback of course on their interactions with us, but it's not often that we get to hear what actually happened in those particular situations.
So I can imagine how rewarding it would be to hear back that what your services have done for that individual and how positive that experience has been. But I do know that's not always the case, unfortunately. So with that in mind, could you briefly share with our audience some of the things that you've heard or encountered relative to domestic violence in the workplace? Not with any personal identifying inflammation, of course, but if you could share some of those, that would be great.
Absolutely. The one case that really sticks out in my mind when I think of domestic violence impacting the workplace is we had a case, and again, obviously, I won't use specific organizations or people's names, but we had someone who was referred to us. They worked for an agency here in Montgomery County. And the referral actually came from their employer. And obviously, that's something that we like to see because it means that the workplace, the office is engaged. The victim felt comfortable coming forward and talking about their situation. But frankly, it's not the norm. It's not the norm of how we receive a referral, so it stuck out in my mind that the referral initiated from the workplace.
And what was happening was that the abusive party, the abuser was coming to the office and was threatening and harassing the victim, and that it had sort of come to a head with the abuser threatening the entire office. And that was when it sort of escalated to this executive level within the agency, and that's when they reached out to us to provide services to the victim. Come to find out after doing a little bit of digging, and we find this happens a lot, her coworkers knew what was going on well before anyone else did. It was not the first time that the abuser had showed up to harass her, or try and talk to her, or pull her out of work to try and talk about something, or act like something was an emergency when it wasn't. And they all knew that it was a weird situation, but none of the managers knew. None of the executives knew. And it was only really elevated to their level when the abuser was threatening the rest of the workplace.
And so I think that's most often when you see intimate partner violence or domestic violence impacting the workplace, it's really in that way. The more subtle ways or the kind of invisible ways that we don't think of are specific to the victim. They're going to be taking off more. They're going to be taking more leave. They're going to be more withdrawn from social activities. A lot of offices have a holiday party, or someone's birthday, they all go out for drinks. And someone who's in an abusive relationship, they are being controlled, however that control is manifesting itself, the core foundation of an abusive relationship is power, manipulation and control. And so they're not going to feel comfortable going to a social event, or they're going to have this preoccupation with what they're doing. And is their partner going to be okay with that? And what is their partner going to think of that? And does their partner have something that they want them to be doing instead? And they're going to have that sort of preoccupation, that anxiety, that fear. So that's really the ways that we see domestic violence impacting the workplace.
I see. I see. So what advice would you give to someone when it comes to telling their employer about the abuse that they're enduring? Should they tell their employer? Because I feel like oftentimes, they're afraid to tell their employer because they think that they're going to be retaliated against, or it's going to be frowned upon, or that other people are going to find out about it. So what advice to you have for those individuals who might be in a situation right now when it comes to domestic violence and telling their employer?
The short answer is that if you're experiencing abuse, and you are ready to come forward and you want to tell someone, and you feel safe doing so, you should absolutely do it. If your workplace is such that you feel safe and comfortable and secure talking to a supervisor, or to HR, or the employee assistance program, if you feel safe and comfortable, please, please do it. Now the longer answer for that is when someone is experiencing abuse, like I said, those hallmarks of power, manipulation and control, the person feels isolated, they feel ashamed. Just the simple dynamics of that relationship and what it does to people, and the cycle that they go through, many people have tried to leave the relationship, and then they end up going back. And it just compounds the fear and the shame.
We have so many people, on average, it takes someone seven or eight attempts to leave the relationship before they actually are able to leave. And so every time that they leave, someone knows. A friend knows, a family member knows. Oh, they finally got out of the relationship. So when they go back, that shame that they feel is just exponentially greater. And so people do face these very real barriers about coming forward about their abuse because they're afraid of what people are going to think about them. They're afraid. Are people going to look at me the same way? Are they going to be able to continue to work with me in this way? Or for some people, work is their escape. Work is when they're able to be away from the abuse, and the very notion of having their abuse infect their work life.
We've had folks here at the Family Justice Center, there's one woman I'm thinking about in particular who kept her abuse very secret. None of her colleagues knew about it. And when we really broached that as a topic, she said, "The idea that the most shameful part of my life, the scariest part of my existence could infect my work life, which I was really happy with and I was successful and I had friends, the fact that could possibly infect that was unbearable for me." And so it's a very real fear. But if people ... If you feel safe and you feel comfortable bringing it up in the workplace, please do so. A lot of people don't know that there are resources available usually.
Absolutely. So let's say they don't tell their employer, what are some of the signs that employers should look out for? You mentioned some of them around not attending events, or absences. What else can an employer look out for in determining if their employee might be in a domestic violence or abusive relationship?
It's a little bit tricky because a lot of the signs that you would look for are also signs that could be indicative of a variety of other things, if someone is dealing with an illness that they don't want to really talk about, or having family issues, whether they be medical or personal, other struggles going on at home. Or maybe they're just going through ... We've all gone through stuff. We all have stuff that we go through. But a lot of the signs are the same, so it's really important to take these warning signs and put them into context.
So if you notice that someone is ... They're calling out a lot, they show up to work with unexplained injuries, or they come to work and there's an injury that they explain, but the explanation doesn't really make a lot of sense, then putting that in the context of that anxiety, or a preoccupation with what their partner thinks, or if their partner shows up a lot, or if their partner calls a lot, all of these individually don't necessarily mean that they're in an abusive relationship, but when taken into context all together could be indicative of something more.
Also, keep in mind from a supervisor or managerial perspective, even if you believe that something might be going on, and even if you're right, you might try to reach out to that person, or try to talk to that person about what's going on, chances are they're going to be very resistant to telling you. They're much more likely to ... Unless you have a really good relationship with them and they trust you and they're ready, you're much more likely to have luck as a friend, or a colleague, or someone that they go to church with. Those are the people who are going to find out first.
Absolutely. I can understand that. So we often tell employers to have policies and plans in place to address various issues within the workplace. And with the pandemic for example, many employers didn't have a business continuity plan in place, or one specific to infectious diseases. But employers are often unsure about the violence, or the workplace violence piece. And of course, there should be policies and practices in place for that as well. And when it comes to domestic violence and entering the workplace, you mentioned the threatening behavior from the employee's spouse, employers are often unsure. Should they contact the police if someone comes into the workplace, if they're uncertain about whether or not someone is threatening the employees, or threatening their job? When should they call the police? We know that many ignore it and hope that it doesn't impact the employee's job. But what should employers do? What should they have in place? And what should an employer do if they confirm that an employee's a victim of abuse?
Well, it's a difficult situation. I feel like in a business or professional setting, at least for me, and I'm sure others have had the same experience, you're kind of conditioned not to get too heavily involved in coworkers', or employees', or subordinates', or supervisor's personal lives. And so I think a lot of people are afraid to broach a topic, or they have this mindset that as long as it's not impacting their work, I'm not going to get involved. It's not my place. They're going to do what they're going to do. These misconceptions that if the victim keeps going back, then it's their fault anyway, and it's their choice, which again obviously, I know I called it a misconception, but I will reiterate. That's a symptom of the abusive cycle. That's not the cause of the abusive cycle.
But it is a difficult position to be in. I'm going to go back to the example that I brought up earlier with the workplace, the agency that reached out to us because an employee was involved in an abusive relationship. I'll preface this by saying that I do believe that the employer should do what they can to keep their employees safe on an individual level, individual personal level, as well as in total. We do run the risk of going too far in the opposite direction, and that's what actually happened in this case. The employer, I think the heart was in the right place and they were trying to get help for this individual. But what was happening was again, like I said, if you're in an abusive relationship, you are being manipulated and controlled to the Nth degree. And the way that we train our staff is that the way to break that cycle of abuse is to empower.
You have to empower the person to choose their path forward, give them knowledge about the options available to them. And then encourage them to take that power and move forward with it. What was happening with this particular employer was that they were forcing the victim. They were saying, "You have to do this, or you can't work here. You have to do that, or you can't work here." She actually ... We were able to kind of get her away from the employer and talk to her separately. And she said that basically work had become a personal hell for her because she was facing the abuse at home, but she felt like she had that "under control." She could handle that. She was used to the abuse at home. And then at work, she wasn't getting her work done because every time she came in, her supervisor was telling her to go to talk to HR about her situation and give them updates. And did she get a protective order? Or did she call the police?
And so it was too much. It was just too much. So that's when we kind of had to step in, disengage the employer a little bit, so that we could work with her about keeping herself safe and engaging in her service plan and in her safety plan, which ultimately leads to increased safety for the workplace. Again, that being said, if an employer feels as though their employees are in danger, then they need to do what they need to do to keep their employees safe. I would recommend if you encounter as either an HR professional, or a manager, or even a coworker, if you encounter a situation where you believe someone, or you can confirm that someone is in an abusive relationship, the most critical thing is to be supportive, nonjudgmental, empowering, and knowledgeable about the resources that are available. Every HR professional, every supervisor, every worker should know what the local domestic violence resource is, or just in the same way that they would know that if someone comes in and they're suicidal, the managers know and the HR folks know. They know the number for the crisis center to call the suicide hotline, or 911.
They should also know the local resources for domestic violence because as soon as if someone opens up to you, that is your window to save them because that window could just as easily close the next day after something else happens. And so if you are armed with that knowledge of, listen, I believe you, I'm here to support you, I care about your safety, and I know a place where you can go and get help, and I will support you through every step of this process, that's how you make an effective change.
Well, thank you for bringing that up because actually, that was what I was going to ask you, is where people can go for free training or resources on domestic violence. But do you have any particular resources that you could give to our listeners?
Absolutely. So the best resource is going to be the National Domestic Violence Hotline. They have a lot of different options for accessing them, including text, chat through an internet browser, or calling the hotline. Now generally what the national hotline does is they're going to connect you with the local DV crisis line. So it's really great, if you're calling from anywhere in the United States, you're going to be able to connect with your local providers. You're not going to have someone who's in a different time zone, or whatever, trying to talk you through a situation because a lot of services rely on whatever the local laws are, whatever the local jurisdictional issues are with different law enforcement versus courts, versus therapy services that are available, and all of these different things. So that's what's really wonderful about the National Domestic Violence Hotline, is that you're connected immediately to these local, local groups.
Additionally, just as I guess I'll call this a shameless plug, the Family Justice Center, the Montgomery County Family Justice Center, has created and we're actually getting ready to launch our Family Justice Center Training Institute. And it has a series of modules on a variety of topics surrounding domestic violence. And what makes it really wonderful is that these connections that we have through our work, through this very collaborative effort with these different government agencies and nonprofits, we have the experts on hand to inform and even facilitate in some cases, all of these different types of trainings. One of our modules, or actually, it's one module with two separate trainings, focuses on domestic violence in the workplace. One module is something that would be presented to a large group or at a large staff meeting, for instance.
And the other one is specific for managers and supervisors to talk about, again, warning signs and kind of what their responsibilities should be if they encounter that type of situation. So I would encourage anyone who wants more information on either domestic violence in general, or the Family Justice Center Training Institute, to go to our website, which is www.montgomerycountymd.gov/fjc. Or go to the National Domestic Violence Hotline. They have a website, or you can give them a call. The hotline is 1-800-799-SAFE. So it's 1-800-799-7233. Or again, going on their website, you can do a live chat, or they have a text number as well.
Great. And with regards to the Montgomery County Training Institute that you mentioned, is that limited to people within your county, Montgomery County, Maryland? Or is this information that could also be used by other people in other states?
We would be delighted to provide this information to anyone who needs it. Obviously, if it's someone outside of our jurisdiction, we would probably do something either virtual, or we would have to find a way to get out to wherever they are. But we're happy to share this information with anyone who needs it.
Great. Thank you. You've actually provided some really great information today. And before we wrap up, I think it's important for our listeners to know that there are no federal laws which require you as employers to do anything specific related to domestic violence. However, there are laws that provide certain protections from adverse action. For instance, if someone has a serious injury as a result of domestic violence that could meet the definition of serious health condition under the Family and Medical Leave Act, they may be eligible for job protected leave.
Some states also have job protected leave for activities such as court hearings related to domestic violence. You want to make sure that you check your state nondiscrimination laws because there are protections under those as well, and any local state leave laws that could be available for your employees. And you want to make sure that you don't take any adverse action on an employee that may be a victim of domestic violence. That tends to come up often. And the scenario that you mentioned, Tom, about the employer that was basically on the employee every day around what is she doing with regards to her particular situation. We've had that. We've had where members have said, "Can I just go ahead and terminate someone who's not coming to work or missing days due to domestic violence, for example?"
And I would say to those individuals, one, as an employee, you do have a responsibility to maintain a safe and healthy work environment for your employees under the Occupational Safety and Health Administration or OSHA for short, but you also want to be able to communicate with your employees. Lead with empathy. Have compassion. Talk to your employees, listen to them. Help where you can. Again, you're not a psychiatrist. Most of you are not psychiatrists or psychologists. And so you want to leave the counseling and that to the professionals. That's why it's important to be able to refer these individuals to your company's employee assistance programs if you have them, and of course, any kind of resources like the ones that Tom has mentioned. Check your company's policies and practices. If you don't have anything in place with regards to workplace violence, domestic violence, you may want to consider that.
And consult with your attorneys on the risk in your particular situation. There could be something that is at a high risk. You want to check with them as well. I think this is really great information. And oftentimes, when it comes up, we tend to be reactive rather than proactive as employers about this. We focus on other things within the organization and don't necessarily think about someone who may be a victim of domestic violence in the workplace. But it could happen, and it could be happening right now in your workplace. So this is definitely something that you shouldn't wait for something to happen. Make sure that you've got the tools and resources necessary for your managers and the training available in case this comes up.
So Tom, it's been an absolute pleasure speaking with you today on this really important topic. You've provided a wealth of information. And I'm sure that our listeners will find this very beneficial.
Thank you. Thank you so much.
Great. Thank you. And again, before we end the session, is there any contact information again, or your website that you'd like to just repeat for our listeners in case they missed it the first time?
Sure. Absolutely. So the Montgomery County Family Justice Center website can be found at www.montgomerycountymd.gov/fjc. And of course, if anyone wants to reach out to me personally, I'm happy to chat with anyone either by phone or by email. My email address is Thomas, T-H-O-M-A-S, dot Manion, M-A-N-I-O-N, @montgomerycountymd.gov.
Great. Thank you so much, Tom. And we've come to the end of our show. As a reminder, today was part one of our miniseries on the technical competency HR expertise, when domestic violence enters the workplace. Be on the lookout for part two of our miniseries on law enforcement in HR about reaching out to the police. And we have this other part of our podcast that's going to go into greater detail about when it's time for HR to reach out or work with law enforcement. As for the podcast, it is approved to provide recertification PDCs, but only if you listen to the full miniseries. And if you haven't already, please subscribe so you'll never miss an episode. And be sure to rate and review the show wherever you listen to podcast. Who knows? We might read your review on a future episode.
Feel free to reach out to me. You could find me on Twitter at SHRM A Clayton. I'm also on LinkedIn. Just search Amber Clayton. And if you'd like to learn more about Honest HR Podcast, about myself, or the other hosts, or to get additional information and resources on what was discussed in today's episode, head over to shrm.org/honesthr. And to learn more about the other SHRM podcasts, check out shrm.org/podcasts. Thanks again for joining us on Honest HR.