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Intimate Partner/Domestic Violence in the Workplace

How to respond to a co-worker in an abusive relationship.

Have you ever suspected that a staff member or co-worker might be experiencing domestic violence?  If so, you are not alone.  One in three Kentucky women between the ages of 18-44 will experience domestic violence in their lifetimes.  Domestic violence, which is different from relationship problems or conflict, is a pattern of behavior used by one person to establish power and control over an intimate partner.  This may consist of emotional, verbal, physical, sexual and economic abuse.  It does not discriminate, impacting women and men in straight and same sex relationships.  Rarely does the abuse remain in the home, with effects spilling over into the workplace and harming a victim’s chance to create contacts and economic independence.

Here are some suggestions for ways to effectively respond to staff or co-workers who may be victimized in their intimate relationships:

For Co-workers

Listen and refer. Your role is not to be a counselor, or to fix the problem.  Your role is to recognize, respond and refer him or her to services.

Let your co-worker know that he or she is not alone and that there is help available, with the Kentucky Employee Assistance Program (KEAP) at  502.564.5788 or 800.445.5327 or the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1.800.799.7233

For Supervisors

Your role is not to be counselor, or to fix the problem.  Your concern is work performance and keeping and supporting good employees.  Your aim is to recognize, respond and refer the employee to services.

Create a safe space for employees to talk about domestic violence.   Display posters and use screen savers stating that domestic violence is wrong.

If you suspect an employee is in an abusive relationship, talk to him or her.  In a non-judgmental way, state how you have seen a change in work habits (e.g. tardiness, sleepiness, and absences) and ask if anything is wrong.  Reiterate that you want to make sure your employee can continue the work she has been doing.

Put your staff member in contact with KEAP at  502.564.5788 or 800.445.5327, who will connect her to domestic violence services, counseling and will be a liaison with the workplace.  Together you may work with human resources to find ways to create a safe and workable plan for the employee to continue work while staying safe.


For more information on this issue, contact the Division of Violence Prevention Resources at 502.595.9433 or KEAP at 800.445.5327. Together we can work to create a safer workplace for all employees.

Submitted by Gretchen Hunt, former Staff Attorney, Division of Violence Prevention Resources