Most employees at veterinary practices — whether veterinarians, veterinary assistants or receptionists — are women. Unfortunately, women are disproportionately affected by domestic violence: 10 million women each year are abused by their partner.
If you suspect that an employee at your veterinary practice is being abused, there are several steps you can take. Keep in mind that none of these tips are legal advice, and if you have any questions you should consult a lawyer.
Helping Your Employee
If you find out your employee is being abused, your first response may be to call the police. While that’s an admirable impulse, it’s not necessarily a good idea. If your employee’s partner discovers someone has called the police, they may harm your employee. Keep any discussions you have you about your employee’s situation completely confidential, and impress the need for privacy on any other employees who know.
Instead of acting unilaterally, it’s best to work closely with your employee to figure out what her needs are. If she can speak openly with you about her experience, ask her questions like:
- Does she fear immediately for her safety?
- Does she need medical attention?
- If she needs to flee, can she do so? Does she have money and transportation available to her?
- Does she have a plan for any children or pets that may be at home?
There are several crisis lines and nonprofits that protect and assist domestic abuse victims. The National Domestic Abuse Hotline‘s number is 800-799-7233, and they will refer you or your employee to resources in your area, including shelters and counselors.
Abusers seek to control their partners, and a job is a source of autonomy that threatens that control. You may see the abuser harm your employee’s work by sabotaging her transportation, forcing her to make emergency childcare arrangements or simply harassing her until she quits her job.
Even if the abuser doesn’t attempt sabotage, you may see your employee’s quality of work suffer, as she deals with a major personal crisis. As the employer, you tread a delicate line: You have to protect and support your employee while still insisting upon the high standards of her work.
Do your best to be understanding as your employee navigates this crisis, just as you would make allowances for someone going through a serious personal crisis like a death in the family. Understand that while this is going on, your employee may not be able to go the extra mile for your practice. Talk to her and understand what her limits are.
At the same time, don’t coddle your employee. Many abusers have wrecked their partners’ self-esteem, at least in the short term, and she’ll know if you’re going too easy on her. Work she can take pride in may be one of her few respites from her situation at home.
Protecting the Rest of Your Team
Domestic abusers can be famously vindictive. You need to take reasonable steps to protect your practice and employees, while still protecting the victim’s privacy.
Have an emergency procedure in place. If there’s any suspicious activity, make sure employees know to call emergency services. You don’t need to focus these instructions on the employee’s partner: It’s good advice in general.
If word does get out, you should advise your employees to not offer to put up the victim if she needs to escape. While that’s a laudable act of compassion, it puts your employees at unnecessary risk. It’s better to have your employee go to a domestic violence shelter, where her safety is assured.
It’s frightening and distressing to realize one of your employees is experiencing domestic abuse, and it’s difficult to know how to respond. With a little care, compassion and prudence, you’ll be able to stand up for her in the ways that are most helpful.
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