Potential Workplace Violence From An Employee’s Significant Other

January 9, 2018

Topics: Safety in the Workplace

Employers may be faced with an employee who reports that she has just obtained a restraining order on a former spouse, which applies to her place of work. She gives Human Resources a copy of the order, and asks for help should he show up at work. With workplace shootings and other violence in the news, HR would be right to be concerned regarding how to proceed.

As a first step, the company should determine (1) if applicable state law provides protections for victims of domestic violence through their employer and, if so, (2) what might be necessary here. Under these laws, a “victim” in not necessarily only someone who has been actually physically harmed, but can include those who have been threatened with harm, or have reason to fear harm. The existence of a restraining order is likely proof enough that a judge thought she could be in harm’s way so such a law, if it exists, would likely apply.

Next, employers should get information from the employee regarding the likelihood that the former spouse would show up at work. Is he likely to abide by the restraining order? Does he know where she works? Has he been there before? Of course, she may not know what he could do, but it could be helpful to get her sense of the situation.

Finally, it would be prudent for the company to consider actions it can take should the former spouse show up at the premises, or to otherwise protect all the company’s empoyees. These may include:

Providing reception/security with a photo of the former spouse and advise that he is not permitted to enter the business. Ensure they are trained to call 911 immediately if necessary.

  • Providing reception/switchboard with the name and phone number of the former spouse and instructions not to put calls through to the employee from this individual, if such is in violation of the restraining order or requested by the employee.
  • Hiring an on-site security guard if you do not have one, depending on the nature of the potential threats.
  • Temporarily changing the employee’s work location, if possible.
  • Arranging for a parking spot for the employee close to the entrance.
  • Have security walk the employee to/from the parking lot.
  • Be sure the employee has a contact person in the company (usually Human Resources) who is kept updated regarding necessary information, including phone calls or emails to the employee at work from the former spouse. If necessary, block the former spouse’s email address, but have the emails routed to HR or otherwise for review and monitoring.
  • Make sure your company policies address workplace violence and emergency situations such as work-site shootings, personal assaults, etc. Prepare for the worst, hope for the best. Train your staff to deal with an active on-site shooter. Active shooter drills are as common at schools as fire drills. Consider them for the workplace.
  • Ensure your staff are trained not to provide personal information regarding any employees in response to inquiries, including their locations. The receptionist should not answer a question “Is Mary Sullivan in the office today?” when that is the first question the caller asks. The response should be “who is calling?” “what company are you with?” “are you a customer?” or other similar questions, followed by further questions to establish the identity of the caller and their business with the company.
  • Hire a security consultant to do a security analysis of the situation and make suggestions applicable to this situation in particular, or your company in general.
    Employers have obligations to keep their employees safe, and it may seem that terminating the employment of the domestic violence victim is what would keep potential violence out of the workplace. However, the company may have certain legal obligations to the employee prohibiting that action. Contact employment counsel to understand your rights and obligations under applicable law.