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EAP Recommendations for Managers And Supervisors on Domestic Violence Prevention in the Workplace

1. Definition

Domestic Violence, often referred to as battering, is a pattern of coercive control founded in violence that can take several forms of abuse: physical, sexual, emotional, psychological and economic.  It occurs in both heterosexual and same-sex relationships; an abuser or a victim can be a woman or a man.

The intent is for the abuser to feel superior and dominant in the relationship while making the partner feel subordinate, incompetent, worthless and anxious.

Domestic Violence can occur as a continuum of behavior ranging from emotional abuse and verbal assaults to physical abuse and homicide. Each form of domestic violence places the victim at significant risk for injury, both emotional and physical.

2. General Guidelines

The following information is provided to help managers and supervisors interact with employees who are victims of Domestic Violence and to help those employees obtain the services they desire.  However, it is important to understand that an employee may not be ready to admit that she or he has been injured by a partner or family member and may choose not to discuss the topic. Managers and Supervisors should respect this decision, but should give information about available resources in the Hospital and community (see resources at end of these guidelines).

We want to show our concern and offer appropriate help, but we also want to take great care that we treat Domestic Violence as we treat all of our employees' personal problems.  When we suspect that an employee is a victim of violence, or has any other personal problem, we focus on the job performance and suggest that they get help from a professional who has expertise in treating that particular problem.

Take precautions not to get overly involved; it will not be helpful to the employee, and may possibly put you, the employee and the workplace at risk.

Use the Hospital's resources for guidance: the Employee Assistance Program (EAP), Security, Human Resources or Employee Health Services.

The intention of these guidelines is to help supervisors know that

  • You are not alone
  • There are supports in the Hospital
  • There are clear guidelines for employee referrals

3.  Signs and Symptoms of a Victim of Violence  (Look for a pattern rather than one sign/symptom.) 

  • repeated discussion of marital/relationship problems
  • flowers/gifts sent to employee at the workplace for no apparent reason
  • bruises, chronic headaches, abdominal pains, muscle aches
  • recurrent vaginal and bladder infections as reported by employee
  • vague, non-specific medical complaints
  • sleeping or eating disorders
  • increased use of alcohol or drugs
  • signs of fear, anxiety, depression
  • fatigue
  • intense startle reactions
  • difficulty in making decisions alone
  • suicidal or homicidal thoughts
  • tension around receiving repeated personal phone calls
  • nightmares/flashbacks
  • tardiness, or very early arrival at work
  • unplanned or increased use of Earned Time or Paid Time Off
  • decrease in job performance
  • unkempt or disheveled appearance

4. if an Employee Self-discloses: Guidelines for the Manager/Supervisor    

  • Communicate your concerns for the employee's safety.  Communicate that you are concerned for the safety of her/his children if there are any. 
  • Tell the employee that you believe her/him and that what is happening is wrong.  No one deserves to be hurt.  (The abuser may say, "You made me do it, it's your fault.")
  • Tell the employee that the EAP and Security can help with safety planning, based on the wishes and needs of the employee.
  • Be clear that your role is to try to help and not to judge.  The employee needs to know that someone cares, will listen and can help her/him find the right resources.
  • Refer to the EAP as a resource with expertise in counseling employees who are living with domestic violence and knowledge about services. If the employee chooses not to use the EAP, reiterate safety and refer to other Hospital and community resources.
  • Discuss concerns about the employee's situation confidentially with the EAP for consultation and support as needed, with Security if there is a concern about workplace safety, or with Human Resources regarding Earned Time or Paid Time Off, leaves and performance issues.  Do not discuss the employee’s situation with anyone else without permission.

Additional Comments

What not to Say…

  • Why don’t you just leave?
  • What did you do to provoke your partner?  
  • Why did you wait so long to tell someone? 
  • Don’t use labels such as “battered” or “abused.”
  • Don’t tell the employee what she/he must do.


  • If possible, rework the employee’s work assignment or schedule to decrease stress.
  • Follow up to see how the employee is doing. Ask general questions such as “How are you doing?” “How are things going?
  • Respect the employee’s privacy, even if you think she/he is still in an abusive relationship.
  • Maintain your relationship as manager/supervisor, not as counselor.  

In order to avoid arousing an abuser’s suspicion, an employee may want to seek help during the workday.  If possible, rearrange the work schedule so that there is time during lunch or breaks.

A victim may choose to stay in or return to an abusive relationship out of fears for safety, economic survival, religious convictions or out of shame. As managers and supervisors it is not our place to counsel the employee or express frustration, but rather to refer to helpful resources and then only if the employee is willing.

Adapted from the Newton-Wellesley Hospital Human Resources Guidelines for Managers © 2005 Partners HealthCare System, Inc. All rights reserved.

For more information about Domestic Violence in the workplace:

Workplaces Respond to Domestic and Sexual Violence: A National Resource Center

Hotlines are free and confidential, available 24 hours/7 days a week, interpreters available

In Massachusetts:
Domestic Violence Hotline (Safelink) 877-785-2020
Boston Area Rape Crisis Center 800-841-8371
Fenway Community Health Center (services for gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender survivors of abuse) 800-834-3242

Outside Massachusetts:
National Domestic Violence Hotline, 800-799-7233

If you are in immediate danger:
Call the Police at 911

For more information or to discuss domestic abuse concerns you may call the Partners Employee Assistance Program's Domestic Violence Specialist at 1-866-724-4EAP.

This content was last modified on: 10/02/2019

Partners EAP is not a service for the general public.

In case of emergency, please call 911 or your local hospital emergency service.

Call Us: 1-866-724-4EAP