EHS OutLoud Blog
A Complex Environment

A Complex Environment

My May Break Room column, “Broken Glass,” along with the workplace violence series that prompted it, apparently struck a chord with many readers who wrote in to share their thoughts.

“Broken Glass” focused on how domestic violence can too easily become workplace violence. And while many of us might hear “domestic violence” and immediately assume iit's a case of a man abusing a woman, it doesn’t always work that way. Take it from this reader, whose family was personally touched by domestic violence:

Hello Laura, and thanks for your great editorial, “Broken Glass.” Thank you for writing the article as “gender neutral.” All too often, today men are being blamed as the aggressors and women as victims. You have obviously done your homework ... studies continuously reveal that women [may be] equally abusive as men. Thanks for your neutrality.

—A father whose son was married to a physically and emotionally abusive woman

I did make a conscious effort to keep my reporting on domestic and workplace violence gender neutral. After all, as employers encourage workers to feel comfortable reporting potentially dangerous situations, it won’t help if an abused male employee suspects his problem is perceived as one only women face. Men can be abused by women, and couples in same-sex relationships can experience abuse, too. Employers would be well served to be open-minded and ready to help protect their employees no matter the circumstances of the alleged abuse.

Another reader, who also wished to remain anonymous, shared what happened when one of his employees struggled with a domestic violence situation. He also suggests that helping employees with personal matters can yield benefits for the company:

Thanks for the great article you wrote about workplace violence. As a supervisor, I’ve assisted employees with domestic issues including arranging counseling for an employee with marriage issues. Talking to your supervisor is a scary thing. [This] employee ... was afraid of company retribution if anything became public. Happily, the story had an awesome ending for all involved. The assistance I gave “Bob” caused him to be a very loyal employee, his family was restored, and 12 years later remains that way.

I also drove Bob to a couple smoking cessation appointments on company time and, in doing so, falsified pay records for those couple of appointments by choosing to pay him rather than dock his pay. When those incidents came to light I was hauled in the HR manager’s office. The company’s initial position was that I wasted about 3 hours of company money. My position was that I made an investment in the employee’s health and happiness that would pay dividends to the company. When the details were revealed, the HR manager decided through her tears that in the long run I had acted in the company’s best interest and the issue was dropped.

I tell you this as your article caused me to stop and reconsider what a complex thing a work environment really is. Thanks for such an awesome essay – the last paragraph is particularly poignant.

The connection between workplace violence and domestic violence is very real. I’m even more convinced now that I’ve read through some of the comments on our 2013 National Safety Survey, where several readers shared stories of domestic violence crossing into the workplace. Look for EHS Today’s August 2013 feature on the survey to learn more.

In the meantime, to learn more about workplace violence, read our special four-part series, "Practical Preparedness for Workplace Violence."

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