Is Your Workplace a Safe Place to Ask for Help?
Years ago I worked for a hospital that had a division that was a physician billing company and we had an employee whom I’ll call “Dee”. Dee came forward to me in the HR office and said that she was going through a very, very difficult divorce and that her husband was actually stalking her and waiting outside of her door to her house all the time. He was threatening her and threatening the safety of their two young boys who were only three and five years old. And he was also threatening to go to court and say that she was an unfit mother. She was scared that she was going to lose custody. She was scared for her safety and the boy’s safety. As you can imagine that would make it really hard for her to concentrate on the job.
I called my counterpart in Human Resources, a woman who I’ll call “Mary”, who had the same job that I did, but at another division and what Mary and I did was create a job transfer for Dee so that she could go to Mary’s division and work the same hours and get the same pay and do a very similar job to what she was doing for us. And that would really be helpful for Dee because money was critical. That was the one thing that would help her get back on her feet and away from her husband and successfully get divorced and be able to support the two boys. But then when, and if, the husband ever came to our workplace and looked for her we could truthfully say “She’s not here anymore, and she doesn’t work here.”
The night before Dee was supposed to transfer a couple of her co-workers came to me in my office and said, “Did you know that Dee was sitting out in her car in the parking lot crying her eyes out?” I said, “Well no, I didn’t know that.” I went out there and I tapped on the window, Dee rolled the window down and she’s crying, that kind of sobbing crying that probably all of you have done at one time or another when something horrific was happening. I said, “What’s going on Dee?” and she cried, “I told that other HR manager I didn’t want the transfer, and she screamed at me and she said, ‘do you know the hoops that I jumped through to get you this position, do you know the time it took me to create this job for you!’” Dee was just absolutely mortified. And I was stunned, stunned that a human resources professional, somebody like you, somebody like me, would have the audacity to re-victimize Dee in the manner that she did. Here Dee was fearful for her life as it was, feared for her children’s safety, and just because this woman had really an ideal situation, happily married, and no children, and just because she couldn’t really understand these situations and wasn’t putting herself in Dee’s shoes, that she only thought about the time it took her to create this position. She didn’t think about Dee at all.
I was mortified, and that was a real turning point for me. Although I had worked in human resources for many years and had other issues with employees that were dealing with domestic abuse and also grew up with it in my own life. That was really one of the moments, for me, was the intersection for helping HR managers understand the business case for addressing domestic abuse at the workplace. And I don’t know why Dee didn’t want that transfer. I never really asked her, but I’m going to guess that it’s because she knew that if she stayed with us we would validate her and we would do whatever we could do in our power to keep her safe, which is exactly what we had demonstrated by trying to get her that transfer. And the good news about all of that is we didn’t have to replace Dee we were able to retain a really, really valuable employee. It’s all about making your workplace a safe place to ask for help. And, it’s things like that, those small changes that have really big positive results that each one of you can do in your own workplaces as well.
How has your workplace succeeded? What could be improved? If you have comments and suggestions on how to make your own workplace a Safe Place to Ask for Help I’d love to hear them.
domestic abuse · domestic violence at work · domestic violence prevention · Domestic violence training · employees · Human Resources · management · personal safety · Safe place to ask for help · strategic leadership · training · victim