Working from Home When Home Isn’t Safe



In a national effort to contain the pandemic outbreak of COVID-19 and ensure the safety of their employees and communities, countless employers are shuttering their offices, factories, or stores and instructing those employees who can work from home to do so. And with one-fifth of our nation’s employees already working from home, and even more now joining the remote workforce, employers are focusing on important questions such as: “How do I maintain productivity, engagement, and organizational culture in a work from home environment?” and “How can I support employees also juggling family responsibilities at home?” and “How do I make sure technology is accessible for everyone?” These are all important questions to ask and answer. 

We urge you to consider another important question: “What can I do if my employee is not safe in their home?”

This is a question weighing on our minds and hearts as well. Many who experience intimate partner violence view work as a safe haven from abuse. 

Here are some of the ways that an employee who is experiencing intimate partner violence may be even more impacted by the COVID-19 crisis when working at home:

Impact on Employees:

  • Abusers may seek to interfere with an employee’s work-life by creating a disruptive environment, limiting or threatening to limit access to technology.
  • Abusers may take advantage of heightened anxiety or stress due to financial concerns, as well as additional childcare or other family responsibilities, to exert more control or make additional demands.
  • Abusers are more easily able to surveil an employee, making it more difficult for an employee to reach out for help. Social distancing makes it likely that employees’ connections to family, friends, domestic violence support organizations, faith communities, and supportive co-workers is greatly diminished. These connections are the backbone of many survivors’ safety plans.
  • Those planning to exit their current living situation may no longer be able to stay with family or friends; emergency safe shelters may not have availability or may pose unacceptable health risks.
  • When a person experiencing abuse must spend the majority of the day with the person abusing them, the likelihood they will sustain physical injuries or even death is increased. The likelihood of long-term health complications related to intimate partner violence may also be increased.

And, we should also note that all of these factors lead to increased stress and decreased productivity of the employee.

As several news articles have recently noted, activists in communities that have already ordered their citizens to shelter in place have reported higher rates of domestic violence during the period of quarantine. Here in the US, calls to domestic violence hotlines are increasing exponentially. In many ways, the challenges of isolation, diminished resources, economic instability, and lack of childcare being experienced in primarily urban COVID-19 hotspots are similar to those regularly faced by rural survivors of domestic violence, now potentially proliferating across the country. 

Many of the same strategies that employers and employees can use to respond to domestic violence are equally relevant in a remote work environment as they are in a brick and mortar (or desk and cubicle) environment. 

Ensuring that your organization has implemented and widely shared its policies and resources related to domestic violence is even more important in a work environment where managers may have more difficulty identifying when an employee is at risk and less ability to craft an individual solution. 

As your organization works to reaffirm its expectations and values in the remote work context, now is a great time to ensure that your domestic violence policy contains these elements:

  • Affirms the organization’s commitment to supporting employees who experience domestic violence; 
  • Addresses safety concerns of the impacted employee and other employees; 
  • Provides information about resources (including confidential resources) for all employees to seek assistance both in the workplace and in the community; 
  • Details the processes the organization will follow once they learn of a possible situation of domestic violence impacting an employee—either from the survivor or from third-party reports; 
  • Prohibits discrimination or retaliation against an employee or applicant because they have experienced a threat or act of domestic violence;
  • Outlines a range of accommodations or assistance that may be appropriate to provide the impacted employee. 

Share these policies with all employees and explain how they may work in the remote work environment. Ensure that the external and/or internal resources provided to employees have options for seeking help in multiple modes—services that can provide support through text messages, social media messaging apps, or chat may be helpful when an employee is not able to safely speak on the phone. The National Domestic Violence Hotline as well as RAINN provide 24/7 confidential crisis support delivered by trained advocates through text or chat as well as by telephone. 

By sharing this information with your entire team, you reduce the stigma many survivors report experiencing, and increase the likelihood they will seek help. The messaging can be straightforward: “We know this is a time of heightened stress, anxiety, and discomfort for many; for some, working from home may also present safety concerns. If this is true for you or someone you know in our organization, it is important to know how our policies relate to the remote work environment and the ways we can support your safety.”  

When an employee does reach out for help, there are a few important ways you can demonstrate your support and increase their safety. Start with safety-planning with the employee as it relates to their work:

  • Identify how you can safely communicate with the employee while they are working remotely;
  • Discuss whether their work hours may be adjusted to increase their safety or whether the remote work expectations (cameras on versus cameras off, for example) may work better for their current environment;
  • Be willing to discuss alternate work locations than the home and what precautions they may take if they are unable to be in the home;
  • Review your organization’s policies so that the employee knows their options and their rights, including any rights to leave of absence and protection from discrimination;
  • Most importantly, let the employee know that you value them, that you care about their safety and well-being, and that they’re not alone.

With flexibility, trust, coordination, and communication, organizations can help some of its most vulnerable employees weather this public health storm safely.

Originally published on the Everfi blog.



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