As practice owners and practice managers, we want the best for our team members. However, sometimes our team members are victims of a harsh reality: domestic violence at home. If one of your team members trusts you with the truth that they are a victim of domestic violence, you must handle the situation with care. Remember, your actions can directly impact your team member’s chance for survival of a difficult situation. Suicide is extremely common among domestic violence survivors, as is the chance that a physically violent abuser will retaliate physically if they discover their victim is seeking help. If your team member has the courage to tell you about their domestic violence, do not breach your team member’s trust by talking publicly about the victim or telling anyone that does not have a need to know.
IF YOU BELIEVE YOUR TEAM MEMBER IS IN IMMEDIATE DANGER, DO NOT READ THIS ARTICLE. CONTACT 911 OR YOUR POLICE DEPARTMENT DOMESTIC ABUSE HOTLINE. You may also reach out to The National Domestic Violence Hotline at www.thehotline.org, 1-800-799-7233 or 1-800-787-3224(TTY).
How to Respond to A Report of Domestic Violence at Home
If a team member trusts you with the information that they have been a victim of domestic violence at home, you must handle their report with the upmost confidentiality. You must also comply with all relevant state/local laws, while maintaining a compassionate environment. If your hospital offers an Employee Assistance Program, now is a great time to provide that information to your team member. You should also provide them with a link to the National Domestic Violence Hotline, so that the team member can seek professional help. The Hotline has trained agents 24/7, who can help your team member develop a plan for getting away from their abuser safely.
While your hospital may not be required to offer any of the following benefits to victims, you may find it a way to your practice is understanding and compassionate to your team member’s situation:
- Allowing your team member to work a flexible schedule or take unpaid/paid leave to get help
- Referring your team member to any Local Domestic Violence resources
- Ensuring that practice security devices (locks, cameras) are in good working order.
- If your hospital has electronic locks between the “client areas” and treatment spaces, consider having them locked during normal working hours. (This also helps protect staff members in general, in case someone were to start wandering through the clinic. At our clinic, we have card readers on the passageways between client spaces (exam rooms/reception) and treatment, so that only our team members can get to the treatment room.)
- If your practice does not already have a “silent hold up” button, you may consider having one installed in your clinic. In our practice, we have two installed, one in the reception, and one in the treatment room.
- Consider having a “buddy system” at practice open/close, so that the team member who is a victim of domestic violence is not walking in the parking lot alone. This is especially true if your parking lot is not well lit, or the shift ends at night. Remember, this is to protect your team, but also your clinic, as poorly lit parking lots could be grounds for liability from any team member who is injured due to a lack of security measures/lighting.
- Promote awareness about domestic violence and how your hospital has resources to help victims. However, make sure you don’t break confidence with the team member.
Approximately 74% of domestic violence victims report being contacted by their abuser while at work. To help prevent a potentially dangerous situation from arising in your hospital, consider asking the team member if they wish for your telephone team to “hold” their calls. You might also consider asking your team member if they would like you to change their work email address or password to one that their abuser does not know.
Legal Implications for Domestic Abuse Survivors
Several states require veterinary hospitals to provide accommodations to victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, or stalking. These include regulations that prohibit discrimination against victims. Some states also require practices to grant unpaid leave to victims so that they can get professional legal help or counseling. In states with paid sick leave programs, your state may require that you allow victims to use paid sick leave or paid time off for victims to get professional help. In the District of Columbia, if hospitals are made aware of a victim’s status as a domestic violence victim, sexual assault victim, or stalking victim, the employer may be required to enact reasonable accommodations to ensure your team member’s safety at work. Consult with an attorney before denying any reasonable accommodation request, or if you are unsure what is a reasonable request.
An often overlooked statute which has implications for victims of domestic violence is the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). If a team member is a victim of domestic violence and suffers a mental injury (such as, but not limited to PTSD), or a physical injury, you may be required to provide a reasonable accommodation for the physical/mental injury under state and/or federal law.