Intimate Partner Violence – Its Impact in the Workplace

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) defines intimate partner violence (IPV) as “abuse or aggression that occurs in a close relationship”, and an intimate partner as a “current or former spouse and dating partner”. One in four women and one in ten men will experience some type of violence by a partner in their lifetime. That violence may manifest as a physical assault, sexual assault, stalking, or psychological aggression. Violence may even result in Intimate Partner Femicide; the killing of women by their current or former intimate partner.

Signs or indicators an employee may be a victim of IPV include:

    • indicators of emotional distress.
    • bruises, black eyes, or broken bones.
    • unusual or vague requests for PTO.
    • abrupt change of address by employee.
    • detachment or isolation from co-workers.
    • absenteeism, tardiness or lack of focus at work.
    • unwelcome visits to work by spouse or partner.

Beyond the physical injuries a victim may experience, the CDC notes they are also at risk of  “a range of conditions affecting the heart, digestive, reproductive, muscle and bones, and nervous systems, many of which are chronic in nature”. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and other mental health problems may result as well.

The Occupational Safety and Health Act’s General Duty Clause, states employers must ensure a place of employment “free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm to his employees”.  Violence in the workplace is now a recognized hazard, and IPV may manifest in the workplace. Because of this, employers must be cognizant of the signs or indicators an employee is being abused and the risk factors related to the abuser. By doing this, employers may enhance the capability to promptly identify and react to IPV, and they can mitigate direct risk to the victim and collateral risk to other employees.

Because an abuser may also be an employee, managers and supervisors should also understand some of the common risk factors demonstrated by an abuser. These may include:

    • prior violence in intimate relationship.
    • stalking behavior.
    • homicidal or suicidal ideation.
    • previous anti-social behavior/attitudes.
    • violence supporting attitudes.
    • substance abuse.
    • sexual ownership.
    • recent employment or financial problems.
    • denial/minimization of violent behavior.

COVID-19 has created unique challenges for many employers including an increased number of employees working remotely. Beyond the logistical challenges this has created, it limits opportunities to identify a victim of IPV. An employee in an abusive relationship may find themselves “trapped” in their home with less access to a support structure. The victim may have more daily contact with their abuser who is also working from home or unemployed. Finally, there are the additional stressors many are experiencing today because of the pandemic and social unrest.

Employers should be more aggressive in these challenging times by ensuring IPV is included in the organization’s workplace violence prevention and intervention process. They should ensure employees and managers are training on signs of victim abuse. Employers should continue to build awareness of IPV in the workplace and reenforce policies and processes for those needing help. Finally, employers should know the resources that victimized employees can seek if needing help.

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