Domestic Violence Spillover into the Workplace: The Importance of Having Security Protocol

chain-broken-freedomA chain is only as strong as its weakest link- especially where security is concerned.

Many companies may task their human resource departments with over-seeing security providers to keep employees as safe as possible while at work. Larger companies may have their own security teams. Either way, security professionals work at staying one step ahead of those who would try to breach their systems, damage or steal property, or to cause harm to a company’s employees and visitors.

Complacency – Both HR and security experts tell me that a particular area of great concern is the human element – because there is no way for them to have full control over it.  The tendency is for people to become complacent and get lax with protocol.

Some let people into the building without following all sign-in and authentication procedures.  Accepting an expired visitor’s badge is not uncommon.

Others, when carding in through a side entrance, will render the best security system moot when they allow others to follow them into the building. This is known as “tailgating.”  In cases where someone sneaks in behind the employee before the door closes, that is known as “shadowing.”

Domestic Violence: a fast growing problem:  Among the many problems that security breaches poses, one of the most dangerous, deadly, and rapidly growing is domestic violence.  Domestic violence (DV) is also known as Intimate Partner Violence (IPV).  According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention,

“Researchers from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) and the Injury Control Research Center at West Virginia University (WVU-ICRC) have found that intimate partner violence resulted in 142 homicides among women at work in the U.S. from 2003 to 2008, a figure which represents 22% of the 648 workplace homicides among women during the period.”

The CDC goes on to say:

“Women in protective service occupations had the highest overall homicide rate; however, women in healthcare, production, and office/administration had the highest proportion of homicides related to intimate partner violence. Over half of the homicides committed by intimate partners occurred in parking lots and public buildings.”

If an abuser no longer knows where his partner lives, he will go to the only place he knows he can find her. Usually that means her job.  This is a threat that most companies are ill-equipped to handle, if at all.  The cruel irony is that not only is the victim in danger at home; the victim is also at a greater risk of losing her/his job because of the implications of violence at home, such as being late to work, poor concentration, etc.  Very often a battered woman does not feel safe to let her coworkers know of her situation, either from shame and/or fear of losing her job.

One Typical Scenario:

A well-dressed, polite man approaches an employee keying themselves in, flashes a pleasant smile, and says “I have a 2pm meeting with Susan in accounting,” as he “tailgates” that employee into the building. An unsuspecting employee might think in that moment, “Well, we do have a Susan in accounting and it is 2pm. I guess this must be her client or a vendor?” This “pleasant” man may very well be Susan’s abuser.

Hold your ground.  It is human nature for us to want to be pleasant and helpful, rather than holding our ground and telling  a pleasant man, “I’m sorry, Sir, but it’s against policy for us to let anyone who does not work here in through a side door. Please use our front entrance and sign in.”  The vague feeling of “being rude” is usually why people will make an exception “just this once” and let someone in.

Her most dangerous time is when she is leaving him.  Victims of domestic abuse are at the greatest risk of being murdered when they are leaving or have just left the abuser.  The US Department of Justice concluded that among men who murdered their wives, leaving or the threat of leaving was most often the “precipitating event.”

Be safe rather than sorry.  We all owe it to one another to follow the procedures and protocols put in place by security experts and to never make exceptions. The security measures exist to keep everyone as safe as possible, and to protect us from dangers that may have never occurred to you, or you never thought could happen at your job.  If we start making exceptions to the rules, there is no way to predict the ways you could be endangering yourself or your coworkers.

Your security team and HR departments are there for you.

  • If you are unsure about any systems or protocols they have put in place, ask them to review it with you.
  • If you know of employees who seem to be getting sloppy on procedure, remind them of policy, and if need be, bring this to your security team’s attention.
  • If you feel you are in a threatening situation, confidentially bring this to your human resource or security team’s attention if you feel safe enough to do so.


The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence

Kathy Gurchiek associate director at HR NEWS writes on this topic.

Larry Kaminer