Friend/employee sexually assaulted
May 22, 2014 7:34 AM   Subscribe

I am a manager and have an employee in my department who is also a friend. She's been having trouble with marriage for some time now and she's confided that it will be ending. Yesterday, she came in an asked to talk privately outside. She was a mess, saying she had been sexually assaulted by her husband the night before. I comforted at best as I could, offering several options for help on a professional. But at this point, I'm not sure of the best way to proceed, privately or professionally.

I've made it clear to higher ups that she's having problems in her private life and needs a bit of understanding professionally. They're all on board with that and we're all agreed she's a valuable employee who definitely gets our support and help. I've laid out a number of options for her to take it easy over the next few days, saying she doesn't have to pick a particular one right now and we'll play it by ear along with making it clear that she can ask for help and encouraging her to seek outside professional help.

As a friend, I've made it clear that I'm here, while reminding her she has other friends to also draw support from.

Is there anything else you think I could or should be doing, be it privately or professionally. I have not told the higher ups specifically that's she was sexually assaulted by her husband, as it doesn't seem to have direct professional bearing, is that a good idea?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (15 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Absolutely do not confide any private information about your employee to higher ups, other than what you've already told them.

Encourage your employee to go to the police about the sexual assault, and to get out and away from her abusive husband.

Keep your distance professionally, brainstorm with her to help her solve her problems and continue to steer her into counseling. If your company has an Employee Assistance Program, urge her to make use of it.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 7:50 AM on May 22, 2014 [7 favorites]

Police or rape crisis centre in her area. If she is a mess, then going to "The Police" might be too scary, hence rape crisis centre.

Don't tell HR any details aside from what you've already said, this won't help her at all, and is none of the company's business.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 8:03 AM on May 22, 2014 [2 favorites]

Ask her to cancel direct deposit of her pay if she is doing that. She needs to be using a bank account that he does not have access to. It should be a bank that she (and her soon to be ex) has not used before.
If she has a joint account, advise her to transfer most of it (leave what's needed for bills). She will need it for her lawyer, and if she leaves it then he can take it and she likely won't see it again.
Have her use a safe work computer to change all her passwords, and check that there are no other linked addresses for pw recovery.
Then get to a rape center (in a hospital?) so that evidence can be documented. Even if she doesn't want to pursue it, this at least keeps her options open.
Then lawyer(s).
posted by Sophont at 8:16 AM on May 22, 2014 [18 favorites]

Nth'ing "Do not tell the higher-ups." Unless her job exposes her to specific, predictable triggers, then the details are not their problem, and sadly, we still live in a society where this might mark her. It is her choice and her choice alone to reveal this to anyone.
posted by Etrigan at 8:18 AM on May 22, 2014 [2 favorites]

The local rape crisis center and/or women's shelter (they're often the same agency) should be a great resource for either of you. They will not pressure her to do anything she is not ready to do.

RAINN's Help A Loved One also has information that might be helpful for you. You can also call the main RAINN number to get connected to the local rape crisis center.

And no, do not tell your higher-ups. There have been a number of fucked-up situations in which victims of domestic violence have been fired for being a "liability" in case the abuser decides to come in and harass the victim at the office, for example, or starts stalking her. (It's possible the latest iteration of the Violence Against Women Act made that illegal, but I doubt it made it non-existent.)

If she does report to law enforcement, the Victims'/Witness Compensation program will often cover the cost of therapy and also advocate for victims with their employers, landlords, etc.
posted by jaguar at 8:20 AM on May 22, 2014

I think that a Rape Crisis center or similar would be a good place for her to start, especially a local one that has information on local resources. As easy at it is to say, "go to the police", that might not necessarily be the best course of action for her, and someone on the hotline can all explore her options with her to help her decide what would be best. Sounds like she is at least on track to get herself out of the situation by ending the marriage. You can help support her by reminding her that the assault was absolutely not her fault (even if it seems to go with out saying). Continue supporting her professionally.

Definitely DON'T tell anyone the details of what is going on in her private life.
posted by Shadow Boxer at 8:21 AM on May 22, 2014

Some tips from the guide "How to Respond to Employees Facing Domestic Violence in the Workplace":
Can someone walk with the employee to the car or public transit stop? Are there any car pools in her (or his) residential area?

How can phone calls be screened? Can the employee’s phone number be changed? Can caller ID be installed in the employee’s work unit?

Can the employee’s name and number be removed from automated phone messages or directories?

Don't give out any personal information to others. Perpetrators often have excellent skills in obtaining information from co-workers.

Make sure the employee knows the specifics of your workplace policy and how to report any incident. Does the policy cover threats over the telephone? Does it cover non-employees, as well as employees? Is there a specific telephone number to call?

If needed and possible, rework the employee’s work assignment or schedule. Follow up to see how the employee is doing with the new arrangement. Ask general questions such as “How are you doing?” or “How are things going?”

Respect the employee’s privacy, even if you think she (or he) is still in an abusive relationship. Maintain your relationship as manager or supervisor, not as counselor.

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.
posted by virago at 8:23 AM on May 22, 2014 [14 favorites]

I think advising her about shared assets and money and bank accounts is a bad idea--you are not a lawyer or financial counselor, and since you are her manager--this kind of advice can be used against you or your company, should they reconcile or other weirdness happen.
Support her, encourage her to find the resources she needs, but don't become her office avenger. I would respect her autonomy and privacy, as well.
posted by Ideefixe at 8:25 AM on May 22, 2014 [5 favorites]

More from the same source (apologies for the double post):
It is important to ask the victim what changes could be made to make her (or him) feel safer. Remember, the victim knows the perpetrator better than anyone else.

Encourage the employee to save any threatening e-mail or voice-mail messages. These can potentially be used for future legal action, or can serve as evidence of violating an existing
restraining order.

Ask the employee to name an emergency contact person in case the employee is missing or unreachable.

Designate a code word or phrase so the employee can alert you to danger.

Is the employee’s workstation away from public access, stairs, and elevators? If not, can it be moved? Can barriers such as plants or a file cabinet be placed between the entrance and the victim's workstation?

Can the employee be given priority parking near the building with a security escore from the car?
posted by virago at 8:27 AM on May 22, 2014 [4 favorites]

Are you in a position to excuse absences from work or approve leave time, or at least to smooth things out with those in the company who do? One of the problems in this situation is that in order to talk to the police, get medical care or counseling, get your stuff from the house and move to a safe location, go to court for a restraining order, etc. usually requires time off work.

Knowing that missing work to deal with the aftermath of this situation won't lead to a bad review or affect her ability to keep her job would be a great help.
posted by bbq_ribs at 8:28 AM on May 22, 2014 [3 favorites]

Given what the other folks have said about what info you should give to HR... can you ask your company's legal department for advice on how to block the husband from entering the workplace looking for your employee without running afoul of local laws? And, as well, to educate your other employees to block the husband from entry?
posted by Tsukushi at 8:30 AM on May 22, 2014

Given what the other folks have said about what info you should give to HR... can you ask your company's legal department for advice on how to block the husband from entering the workplace looking for your employee without running afoul of local laws? And, as well, to educate your other employees to block the husband from entry?

Please, please, please do not do this or things like this without your friend's consent. It is quite possible that for her own safety, she needs to pretend like "everything's normal" at home; it is not only possible but likely that if her husband gets blocked from bringing her lunch, or whatever, she'll get assaulted once she gets home.

If she decides to get a restraining order, that's wonderful, and then the office should absolutely do everything in its power to help her with whatever she needs to enforce it. But do not not not do any sort of white-knighting here -- she knows him, she knows the relationship, she knows what's most likely to keep her alive and what's most likely to get her physically hurt. Trust her judgment absolutely on this.
posted by jaguar at 8:42 AM on May 22, 2014 [11 favorites]

Right now you need to be her boss. You need to look out for her best interests as your employee and find ways to keep her working. I'm not being an jerk here. Abusive spouses isolate their victims and if she becomes dependent on him for housing/food/survival it makes it very, very difficult to leave.

Other people can be her friend. There are supportive trained professionals who can help her heal. You are the only person who can be her boss. Focus your support on getting her through her work day and keeping the higher ups off her back. You may need to give her time off during the business day to attend to personal matters without arousing the suspicion of her spouse. Find a way to do that that doesn't rile up your bosses.

Refer her to your employee assistance services and to your local rape crisis/domestic violence/victims assistance.
posted by 26.2 at 9:11 AM on May 22, 2014 [13 favorites]

As someone who has been abused and had bosses who had the great talent of remaining bosses while offering me the support they could professionally, and as a brand-new boss of someone going through difficulties (life works in strange ways!), I just want to emphatically second what 26.2 said, and that virago's lists are excellent in their specifics to doing so.

I remain eternally grateful to the bosses I had during the time I was abused. I knew that when I went to work, I was respected as a valued employee. Not "a victim who needed protection". (I was, and did, but was never made to feel like that.) I was a real person who was an employee with skills, experience, and contributions. It just so happened that, for a limited period of time, my personal life had a shitty other person in it who had no right to interfere with my career, and my bosses helped protect that reality. In so doing, they reinforced my then-desperate hope that, indeed, the period was only a period, and not the rest of my life paying for an abuser.

Thank you for being the kind of manager and person who would ask this sort of question. I'm sure that in itself already means something to your employee.
posted by fraula at 11:06 AM on May 22, 2014 [7 favorites]

In California, employees of employer with more than 25 employees are entitled to job-protected leave for services such as counseling or safety planning related to domestic violence or sexual assault.

Under federal and California laws, employees with disabilities related to domestic violence or sexual assault (e.g. PTSD) are entitled to leaves of absence, modified schedules, environmental / security changes, and other modifications as reasonable accommodations.
posted by ClaudiaCenter at 2:42 PM on May 22, 2014

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