It's a year into the pandemic, and we're all tired of Zoom meetings, but one woman may owe her life to a Zoom court hearing.
State attorney assistant Deborah Davis noticed that the victim in a domestic abuse hearing acted strangely, and she asked the judge to investigate. The police came and found the accused defendant in the house with the victim, even though he had a restraining order against him. The judge revoked his bail and sent him back to jail.
While this is a court case and not your average business Zoom meeting, there are some lessons we can learn. You're literally peering into your employees' and co-workers' lives when they turn on their cameras.
The National Commission on Covid-19 and Criminal Justice found domestic violence has increased 8.1 percent since the original shutdown last year. Some of the victims and some of the perpetrators could be your employees. While you shouldn't spend your days trying to figure out what goes on at your employees' houses, there are things you can do if an employee needs help.
Domestic violence isn't a typical lunch-and-learn topic, but it should be. One in four women and one in nine men experience severe violence. Let your employees know what your policy is for domestic violence victims--if you have one. Only 35 percent of companies do. If you don't have one, now is the time to make one, so your employees know you will help them if they need help.
Ensure employees know that you will protect their jobs if they need time off, counseling, or other help because of domestic violence. The Americans With Disabilities Act can apply in some domestic violence situations, as can the Family and Medical Leave Act. Some states have stronger protections called personal protective leave. Check out your state law.
The most important thing, though, are your own company policies. The law is a floor, not a ceiling, and you are certainly allowed to help people even more.
Keep an eye out.
If you notice strange behavior, or if your employee seems stressed or nervous all the time, ask privately if everything is OK. Your employee may not speak up or admit what is going on. You certainly cannot force people to tell, but if you've been open about how the company can help, your employee may respond to a gentle inquiry of, "You seem unsettled. Is everything OK at home? How can I help?"
Consider a return to the office.
If someone wants to come back to the office and you suspect the situation at home is not a great one, let them--if it's at all possible. While it won't solve everything, it can relieve some of the pressure.
While you can't send an abuser to jail, as the judge did, you can provide help. You can put measures in place to prevent an abuser from coming to the office. If your employee has separated from their abuser, that's the most dangerous time. Refer the employee to your employee assistance program (EAP) benefit (and if you don't have one, talk with your insurance broker). Help them find a shelter or a place to live. Notify security in your building to make sure the abuser doesn't get in the building.
A person escaping a dangerous situation may not have money for essentials like first and last month's rent on a new apartment. Consider helping out financially.
Don't gossip and don't judge.
This is not your news to share. If an employee is a domestic violence victim, they may not want everyone to know. Please keep things confidential as well. You wouldn't go around shouting about an employee's cancer diagnosis, and you shouldn't share news about their violent partner, either.
And don't judge someone. Often people wonder why on earth someone stayed with an abusive partner for so long. Don't discount an employee's fears and concerns because they are highly paid professionals, so it must not be that bad. Highly paid professionals can be victims and perpetrators.
What if it's you?
Entrepreneurs, managers, business owners, and everyone else can get caught in a trap of domestic violence. If you feel trapped, know you are not alone. Call your EAP and ask for help. It's often a great place to start.