Domestic Violence at Work is “Targeted Violence”

American author Phil La Duke set out to write a book on workplace violence. He wanted to give leaders of companies a working tool for predicting, preventing and protecting workers. What he discovered is that much of the workplace violence he was investigating is actually domestic violence.

According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, workplace homicides account for 10% of all workplace fatalities, and yet workplace homicide is the leading cause of death for women who die in the workplace. 48% of women murdered in the workplace will die at the hands of a family member or domestic partner compared to only 2% for men. Another recent study by the National Safety Council published since the book was released found that over 70% of nonfatal assaults were perpetrated on women.

La Duke’s book, “Lone Gunman: Rewriting the Handbook on Worker Violence Prevention” was written in response to what he describes as “blatantly bad advice from so called violence prevention experts” who do not appreciate the difference between a mass shooting with “untargeted violence” where the shooter doesn’t care who is killed in the quest for a high body count, and workplace violence where the shooter is pursuing a specific target or targets. The distinction is a critical one. Case reviews of domestic homicides consistently show that there are almost always warning signs and risk factors that can be acted on to intervene as early as possible, implement safety planning and reduce risk in an escalating situation. A Canadian workplace domestic violence study showed that workers who are experiencing domestic violence are most likely to tell their coworkers and supervisors. 

In an interview, La Duke says, "Look, I get it, nobody wants to talk about this subject, but at some point we as a society have to say enough is enough. It's not okay to attack, rape, and murder anyone anywhere, but these very things are happening to women in the workplace every day. It's time to stop this. … I hope readers will challenge their companies to do more to protect workers, particularly women, against this kind of behavior. ..Women being raped and murdered particularly at their places of employment where the company has so much power to prevent it and protect against it.”

La Duke’s book speaks to the higher rates of gun violence in the US however his call to action has relevance for employers everywhere. The 2014 Canadian study showed 33% of workers have experienced, or are experiencing domestic violence. 53% of them experience it at work. Workers have also been killed at work in Canada. Even when the murder takes place outside the workplace, the impact is nonetheless devastating for workers and their organizations. The 2016 murder of Dr. Elana Fric in Toronto by her husband who was also a doctor, sent shockwaves throughout the Ontario healthcare system. Dr. Fric had confided in her supervisor that she was in the process of leaving her marriage. Separation is the most dangerous time for a woman and is a high risk factor for lethality. The 2014 study showed that 35% of workers were aware of a colleague who was in an abusive relationship. Without training, they may be uncertain about how, or whether, to respond. In the aftermath of tragedy, the lasting regret for coworkers of having known something about the situation but not knowing what to do, is profound.  Employers can take important steps to prepare their organizations to address domestic violence by teaching everyone in the organization to recognize warning signs and risk factors of domestic violence as a first step toward effective risk management within a safe and supportive workplace.