my employee isn’t doing her job — but I think she’s in an abusive relationship

A reader writes:

I work in a very seasonal business, one where I can really only retain one person in the off-season, as we can’t afford (nor have the work for) anyone else during that time. In the six years I’ve been here, we’ve built up a good core staff that returns most years, and I’ve promoted one person to the full-time, year-round assistant manager position. She’s been with me four years.

The problem is this: in the last year or so, her performance has dropped to the point that her job is in jeopardy. She calls in often to say she’s going to be late, and about half the time that happens, she simply doesn’t show up (to the point where it’s become something of a joke, at least inside my own head). She is entirely non-communicative when she’s out of the office – she doesn’t have her own phone, and so is impossible to get in touch with. To cap it off, she has begun dropping duties entirely, to the point where I have taken over a number of her duties because I can’t count on her to actually take care of things.

Here’s the complicating factor: she’s in what I believe to be an abusive relationship. Many of her call-outs are related to a series of injuries, all of which have fantastical stories explaining them, but … well, let’s just say I’ve never heard of a cat giving someone a black eye before this. Last year, we actually moved her onto the property to give her a few months to get her feet under her (this is hospitality), and at the end of the three months, she went back to him.

I’m at the end of my rope. She and I are going to have to have a serious discussion about the realities of her performance, but at the same time, I don’t want to make her life even worse. I honestly don’t know where to start, but the system can’t continue as-is.

What do I do, and how do I do it compassionately?

Oh, this is so hard.

One one hand, you’ve hired her because you need a job done, and it presumably could have pretty serious effects on your business if that doesn’t happen. That’s especially true because she’s your only employee for much of the year.

On the other hand, the job may be one of her few lifelines, and the thing that may make it possible to leave her abuser at some point (assuming that your suspicions that she’s being abused are correct). And abusers are known to try to get their victims fired in order to be able to exert more control over them. Lots of absences can also themselves be a result of the abuse.

I think you’ve got to tackle this on two different fronts: (1) what you’re in a position to do as the employer of someone you suspect is being abused, and (2) the performance issues.

For the first of those, I’m going to link you to this really excellent advice from a commenter who herself escaped an abusive relationship. There’s lots here that you might be able to put into practice.

To that advice, I’d also add that you could say to her, “If you ever need a safe place to stay again, we can move you back on to the property, no questions asked.”

Also, since she doesn’t have her own phone, could you offer to provide her with a work cell, even if her position wouldn’t normally have one? If she balks at the offer, don’t push it (she may know that it would actually make her situation worse if her abuser learned about it), but it might be helpful to offer and see if she accepts.

For the performance issue, I’d suggest looking at this the way you’d look at it if she were missing work and under-performing due to illness. You’d presumably give her a lot more leeway than if she were just slacking off for the hell of it — but there would also be a limit to how much you were able to accommodate, and at some point you’d need to have an honest conversation with her about what you needed and what she could reasonably commit to. This is different from an illness, but I think that’s closer to the right model to use than any other we have.

So at this point, I’d suggest sitting down with her and having a kind conversation about what you need and what’s going on. You can use language like, “I know that you’ve been having a tough time” and “I want to support you however I can” and even “I get the sense things aren’t okay at home and that’s affecting you at work” and “I really want to work with you however I can to make this work, but I do need you to be here reliably and to let me know when you won’t be” and “are there things I can do on my end that will help?” And because things are at the point where her job is in jeopardy, you’ll need to say something like, “I want to be up-front with you that if things continue as they have been, I wouldn’t be able to keep you on because I need someone here to do this work — but I really want to figure out a way to support you in keeping the job if that’s something you think we can work out.”

Ultimately there might not be anything you can do to make this work, especially as a small business where one person not doing their job will have such a significant impact (and where your resources presumably are more limited, although being able to offer her housing again if she needs/wants it is a huge thing to be able to do).

It’s really hard in situations like this to accept that your options are so limited, and it’s even worse to, as you wrote, feel like you might be making her situation even harder. But you can do what you as her employer are in a position to do: cut her more slack than you would if the circumstances were different (although not infinite slack), and approach her with compassion and empathy and make it clear you’re ready to help if she wants it.

Read an update to this letter here.

{ 185 comments… read them below }

  1. MuseumChick*

    Please keep a log of all this. The dates, times, injuries etc. If she ever gets to the point of putting this scumbag in jail that can be used as evidence against him.

    1. JokeyJules*

      Documentation of a long-standing pattern of signs of abuse could be very helpful to the victim if the police or courts were involved.

    2. Lynca*

      Especially the call-ins then no-shows. Note whether she’s reliant on him for transportation or if he /always/ drives her to work when she does show up.

  2. JokeyJules*

    depending on how close you are with her, it might be good to offer your continuing support even if she isn’t able to work for you right now. Perhaps there will be a time where her situation has changed and the ability to get some work, or even just a great reference, would be extremely helpful to her. I’ve heard that when working with people who are in abusive situations, offering to be there for them, even after you’ve been pushed away, can be VERY helpful and supportive to the victim.

    1. samiratou*

      I was wondering if it would be at all feasible to move her position to part time and bring in a temp or something. I can understand OP not being able to afford to pay her full-time wages & get additional help, but if she can keep her on the payroll (if she can’t keep up her duties) and get an additional person in to help, that might be a possible solution.

  3. Lily Moon*

    Yeah, this is a tough one, OP. All signs point to an abusive relationship. I would say, if you can do absolutely anything to avoid it, please don’t fire her. It would be a big win for her abuser.

    1. Lilo*

      But something that needs to be clear: OP is in no way a bad person if they ultimately have to fire this person. It sounds like OP is ending up doing this person’s work for her, and that isn’t sustainable. You can be compassionate and a good person, but have to spend the payroll on someone that can get the work done.

      1. Redwood*

        Yes, everyone is trying to convince OP to keep the employee at any cost, but I don’t think that’s fair. I’m sorry for the employee, but OP has a business to run, they are not there to be the employees protector. If she can’t do the job and never shows up, OP should not feel bad about firing her. They are not a charity. They should not be losing money over employees bad situation.

        1. AsItIs*

          Also the OP could end up putting the business at risk, and consequently putting the jobs of the seasonal workers at risk.

    2. IT Manager in Toronto*

      OP is being very supportive and is open to compassionate solutions, but if it comes to termination, OP should feel NO guilt (though I’m sure they will). This is such a small business. She can’t bankrupt herself or work herself into the ground over this. You can’t save someone who isn’t ready to be saved. Ultimately, it’s the employee’s choice to find the courage to accept help or not. It’s very painful, but we can’t guilt OP for taking care of themselves as well.

      1. MM*

        This is really beside the point, but I disagree about whether OP “should” feel guilt. Sometimes you have to do things that are even the right thing to do and it can still be appropriate to feel guilty. Guilt is even less binary than right or wrong. Especially in extreme situations, which this at least approaches, sometimes a person has to make a really hard choice that involves doing something they morally would prefer not to. There’s nothing inappropriate about guilt (and allowing oneself to feel and acknowledge it) in such a case. Wallowing in guilt, or spilling it all over other people to excess (such that it becomes performative or self-pitying) is another matter.

        1. RG*

          This is a really good point MM. I would say that pretty much all emotions exist on a spectrum, rather than binary. Feeling guilt in this case would be expected, and although logic might say you shouldn’t feel that way, well…

        2. MakesThings*

          I agree completely. The whole “feel absolutely NO GUILT!” vibe of some of the comments is off-putting. Life is complicated, we make difficult choices. It’s okay to feel guilt about your actions, even if your choice was ultimately the best one.

      2. Annoyed*

        “You can’t save someone who isn’t ready to be saved.“

        Let’s be clear. Abuse is not like alcoholism, etc. The presumably abused employee is a victim. The dynamics of abuse do not lend themselves to choosing to just walk away.

          1. Ted*

            Not just as.
            I’ve been both an addict and a victim of abuse. (Past tense debatable.)
            It’s difficult to recover from an addiction. You can’t simply quit, but if you don’t sincerely want to, you’re not gonna.
            When you’re in an abusive relationship, there are far more variables. Even if you manage to break the psychological addiction of trauma bonding, even if you decide you want to escape… even if you desperately want to get away… sometimes you’re stuck. Sometimes you have to choose between staying with them and living on the streets. Sometimes they prevent you from working enough hours to save any money. Often, they isolate you, and you lose your support system.
            It’s hard to recover from addiction alone. It’s nearly impossible to escape your abuser alone.

  4. Best cat in the world*

    You sound like a really compassionate boss in a tricky situation OP and I hope you manage to sort out something that works for you both.

    As an aside, I’ve had a black eye from my cat, a mad moment at 6 in the morning meant she used my face as a spring board! But obviously, what your employee is dealing with sounds more serious than a daft cat.

    1. Kittymommy*

      My friends had one too, from her massive kitty who decided to wake her up by dinner bombing her head one morning from a bookshelf. Black eye and pretty decent scratch along her cheek.

    2. Nita*

      Oh, that is true. There are many odd ways to get injured where pets, or kids, are involved. I’ve been head-butted, hard, by a dog and a baby in the so many times, my front teeth are probably doomed, and right now have a bruise on my chin because I cannot convince the kids to stop rough-housing in the dark. My dad actually has a chipped tooth thanks to the same dog pulling on the leash hard on a slippery day. But… yeah… all the signs in OP’s coworker’s case point to something much worse.

      1. Anonforthis*

        My dog routinely headbutts me and kicks me in the face – she sleeps next to me and has running dreams, and also bunny-kicks when the belly rubs stop. (Yes, she is spoiled. Yes, I am okay with this. Yes, she is delightful and I love her.)

        1. Cornflower Blue*

          Mine kicks me in the stomach frequently because he also sleeps next to me. And on my lap. I also have a tiny scar on my breast from when he scratched with me a paw when he was a puppy and I was wearing a tank top.

          A pattern of incidents with the severity the OP reports is a different matter, though, and I’m really glad that the OP wrote in to get advice! The compassion and sensitivity demonstrated by the OP here is truly heartwarming, even though it’s a terrible situation for both her worker and her.

      2. Jaybeetee*

        My mother tells a story of when my younger brother was about a year old. She picked him up and he threw his head forward and left her with a black eye. Apparently for days afterwards, people at work kept pulling her into conference rooms asking if she was okay.
        I also had a particularly rambunctious kitten smack me right in the eye one time trying to play. Of course that didn’t leave a mark, but I did laugh about it later, wondering what I would have told people if she had.

      3. SKA*

        Not to keep digressing from a very serious topic, but I also have a chipped tooth from tripping while walking a dog.
        And a friend of mine recently got a black eye whilst trying to get her kitten out of a tree.

    3. Wendy Darling*

      My parents’ giant bruiser of a cat head-butted me with all his considerable strength as I was leaning toward him and nearly broke my nose. It was sore for many days after. If “black eye from a cat” was the only fantastical story I’d be inclined to excuse it, but if it’s one in an improbable series that is a lot more concerning.

    4. overcaffeinatedandqueer*

      My big dumb cat gave me a really nasty bruise on my forehead once, from bonking me with his head to wake me up!

      1. careergal*

        Yep. I started a job with a black eye. We had just moved, our cat was sleeping with us and he got spooked and launched himself off my face. That was fun to explain.

    5. AJK*

      My puppy gave me a black eye once – she had been chewing at the couch, I ordered her off and bent over the couch to smooth out the fabric she’d been trying to chew. She came tearing back, full speed, and jumped on the couch so the top of her little puppy skull slammed into the side of my eye. Boom.

      About a week or so later I got the call to interview for a job, and one of the services the office provides is assisting victims of domestic violence. I put on more makeup than I ever have before or since, because I was sure they’ve heard every excuse in the book, of course they wouldn’t believe me showing up with a black eye saying “my dog did it!”
      As it happened, I got the job. (and the dog is no longer a puppy, so she’s much calmer now.)

    6. JSPA*

      Me too. Cat lunged up while I was bending down to put the water bowl on the floor. Top of kitty head actually fits pretty well into the eye socket area. My mom (in the 50’s, when single) was assumed by her coworkers to be an abused spouse. She was…a rock climber. Have heard similar from women who do roller derby (or wild animal rescue). Women, even injury prone women, are allowed to be passionate about hobbies with a high risk of injury. Women are probably more likely than men to hide such interests at work.

      People also get hurt doing dementia care, looking after a relative with seizures, or any of many other really, really difficult-yet-necessary things that are not “abuse” in the normal sense of the word.

      That’s yet another reason to give her a firm, “this isn’t working” along with a compassionate, “if there’s something outside of work that’s contributing to these dramatic problems, work with me to figure out what we can both do to help you help yourself.”

      Frankly, endless slack is potentially an enabling thing–an excuse to take on more (or put up with more). Setting clear boundaries may actually be helpful to both of you. I would, however, give her some lead time. A different place to stay, in the same general geographical location…isn’t as helpful as it sounds / is more dangerous that it might seem…unless the work site would be secure from someone coming in with a grudge and a gun.

      Do you have connections further away? Can you recommend her for a job someplace where the problem boyfriend can’t easily follow? That would likely be safer. My rule of thumb for aquaintances has been, “more than a tank of gas away” but that’s when the problem guy tends to have less than 50 bucks in his pocket, and a short attention span. Someone more determined, well funded or vicious may require a cross country move.

    7. Lover Not a Fighter (OK, Both)*

      My husband went to the hospital for stitches because a foster dog flailed at the wrong time and a tooth caught him in the cheekbone. We didn’t want to jeopardize the dog’s chances for adoption with a bite record (regardless of whether or not it was an erroneous bite record), so we told them he stood up into the corner of a shelf. My husband and I are boxing instructors, and I happened to be wearing a sweatshirt with the slogan, “I LOVE THE FIGHT”. Long story short, we had at least 15 different staff members approach him about his feelings about his safety in our home. And I got lots of dirty looks.

    8. EW*

      Yes indeed – when I read the post, I couldn’t help but comment because my mom did actually get a black eye from our cat once. Mom was going in the door with a bag of groceries, the cat darted out the door really fast, mom tried to grab her, and ended up with the door handle hitting her eye. I hear it made for an interesting ER visit, as they clearly didn’t believe her story and thought my dad had socked her!

      … but not to detract from the point of this post. Clearly, if there’s pattern of odd injuries and odd excuses, it’s likely abuse.

    9. whingedrinking*

      I recently walked into a wall (it was dark and I was slightly drunk in someone else’s home), and after “Ow!” my first thought was, “Please let this not leave a bruise, because no one’s going to believe I *actually* collided with part of the house.” On the other hand, my face doesn’t seem to show injury easily – I’ve taken elbows to the jaw in mosh pits with nary a mark – while my arms and legs bruise up if you look at them wrong.

      1. Julia*

        Same. I have stopped balls with my functional, but not too pretty nose, without any marks, but the rest of my body is usually pretty colorful. I have a huge multicolor bruise on my leg right now and no memory of how I got it.

  5. Detective Amy Santiago*

    The fact that she doesn’t have her own phone troubles me. Could you get her a cheap pay-as-you-go option so she has a way to contact you?

    1. alice*

      Agree with this. In this day and age, not having a phone is a red flag. You could get her a company phone. If her abuser tampers with it in any way, then you can use that as a way to hold him liable.

    2. Bea*

      It’s doubling down so hard on the cutting someone off from others issue. I’m frightful of someone giving her a phone and the reaction if the abuser finds out.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        That’s why I advised letting her decide herself, and respecting her decision either way. We used to have a regular commenter, Marie, with a lot of (firsthand and otherwise) experience in abuse situations (she’s the one I linked to in my answer) and one point she made frequently was: The person being abused is an expert on their abuser — because their life depends on being an expert on him — and they’re better positioned than anyone else to know what will and won’t keep them safer.

        Here’s an example of what I mean — read the last paragraph of her answer in this comment:

        (Actually, read the whole thing because it’s all excellent.)

      2. JSPA*

        Maybe an old ipod (excused as being for tunes or give it to her with a bunch of work related podcasts)…with a well-hidden texting app (usable over wifi)? Set up the default so that texts (in or out) are not saved.

    3. soon 2be former fed*

      Domestic violence shelters often collect unused phones just for the purpose of giving them to victims and their children. Consider donating your old phones to your nearest shelter.

      1. PizzaDog*

        That’s an amazing idea that I’ve never thought of before. Thanks for pointing this out.

    4. This Daydreamer*

      It sounds like he’s already banned her from having a phone and things could get ugly if he catches her with one. I’d be really cautious and make sure she has a way to keep it hidden from him.

  6. Never Again*

    I can relate to the op on this heartbreaking issue. I also work as a manager/owner in hospitality and have been in a very similar situation. The abused employee did take me up on the offer to live on property, but then their ex showed up. She (admittedly) called and invited her abusive ex into her room, and a guest overheard him beating her and called 911. Myself, the rest of the staff, and the guests were horrified. Several guests demanded to be comped free rooms, and then proceeded to just trash our location on social media and to our corporate office. I believe in being compassionate to employees in a tough position, but I will never again make the mistake of opening my business up to that kind of liability.

    1. irritable vowel*

      Yes, this was my thought too, unfortunately. It’s very compassionate of the LW to offer this woman a place to stay, but she has to balance that with the potential risk to her business and maybe even her own personal safety. Given that it’s just conjecture at this point that the employee is in an abusive relationship, perhaps it’s worth confirming the details of that before offering her a place to stay. If the employee confirms the LW’s suspicions, it might be better to help make arrangements for her at a place like a women’s shelter that is equipped to deal with the security and safety issues.

      1. voyager1*

        I am appalled that a hotel guest would trash a hotel because an employee got assualted because her ex or spouse showed up and decided that he wanted to beat the snot out of her because she was leaving him. I am appalled. Not surprised though because a certain segment of the human population just sucks.

        1. Judy (since 2010)*

          I think Never Again meant that the guest posted descriptions on social media about the event. And sent information to the corporate office.

        2. Lilo*

          The guests themselves may have been reasonably worried about their own safety. Asking for a comped room is a bit much, but other guests would want to know if the place had a violence issue.

        3. Thursday Next*

          I’m surprised someone would review the hotel poorly for this.

          But the other hotel guests wouldn’t necessarily have known it was a DV situation.

          1. Temperance*

            All that they might know is that one of the hotel employees was involved in a loud, violent altercation.

            1. Fergus, Stealer of Pens and Microwaver of Fish*

              They might not have even known it was an employee, if the room was in the same area as the guest rooms.

        4. Temperance*

          Look at it from the perspective of the guests. They’re booking a room for a vacation or for business, and they hear some loud physical assaults, probably screaming and cursing. They then find out that one of the involved parties is an employee of that hotel. They weren’t able to get any sleep in the room that they paid for because of these actions, and it only happened because the employee brought her boyfriend on.

        5. McWhadden*

          People are shockingly callous. I would immediately stop being associated with anyone who complained online because someone DARED to get beaten up while they were present.

        6. kittycritter*

          I mean in all honesty, I would not be thrilled if I was staying at a hotel and it sounded like the people in the room next to me were doing a royal rumble all night long. I wouldn’t have any context behind the situation and I would likely be scared for my own safety. I probably would not leave a nice review of that hotel either and it’s not unreasonable that people staying at a hotel are going to be upset that a knockdown dragout fight between a husband/wife, bf/gf or whatever is taking place next to them or on their floor……

        7. The Original K.*

          They might not have known the details – I would assume they didn’t know the details, actually. All they knew was that their experience was marred by a violent incident at a hotel at which they paid to stay. They may have been afraid for their own safety as well; in that situation, I would almost certainly stay elsewhere if I could, particularly if it was a small hotel. Their experience was negative because of the event. They don’t know any details beyond that. It’s not unreasonable for them to be upset by it, IMO.

          1. Thursday Next*

            This is what I was thinking. If I were in the guests’ place, I wouldn’t hold the hotel accountable through bad reviews, but I wouldn’t be happy about it either.

            1. Falling Diphthong*

              I’d connect it to this morning’s first letter–you can believe in a treatment model for addiction and believe that a local business is justified in trying to avoid the rep “a good place to shoot up if you might OD.”

          2. Yourethicsconfuseme*

            When I was a kid, I’d be in my room and my dad would very violently beat her. I cleaned her up the next day.

            I promise you, there’s no mistaking the sound of “please, no, stop” and sobbing. These aren’t knockout fights. I promise you the abused woman isn’t fighting back. It’s all one sided and I think anyone who heard that could know what was going on a basic level at least.

        8. mark132*

          I’m not. And as a potential guest I value information like this, because I would prefer to stay places when violence is less likely.

          1. Dust Bunny*

            I think it’s very reasonable to assume that the other guests might not have known it was a DV situation, and probably not that it was an employee. I suspect that knowing that the target was an employee might make it worse, too, since I don’t think a lot of people want to stay somewhere that is knowingly housing someone who might attract violence. Which, yes, makes the abusee’s situation more difficult . . . but she was offered a safer place to stay and then called her boyfriend, which sort of makes the guests’ point for them.

            1. mark132*

              I agree if I knew, I would both be impressed with them for their kindness, and at the same time, I would probably stay somewhere else next time I was in town. Just for my peace of mind.

            2. Falling Diphthong*

              Which sort of makes the guests’ point for them.

              Yeah. Reminds me of a past letter where the OP was getting back together with the ex… again… after work helped her last time he kicked her out and changed the locks and she was homeless with no money. And he told her everyone had drama, this stuff was totally natural, she should definitely bring him to work events so he could schmooze everyone. Work would love it.

              I think a lot of people who can analytically understand that It’s Complicated, on an emotional level don’t want to stand there and watch it’s complicated playing out.

            3. Tragically Llama*

              > she was offered a safer place to stay and then called her boyfriend, which sort of makes the guests’ point for them.

              We don’t know if he had their pets at home, and called her and told her sweetly that he would just love to see her, and if she couldn’t make time for him then he would hate to see her childhood cat get its neck snapped. We don’t know if he offered to come by with paperwork letting her out of the lease. We don’t know if he called crying and said his sister had just died and he was going to kill himself and she was the only person who could help him. Abusers are incredibly manipulative and they are excellent at making their victims think they have no choices; then they get revictimized by people who don’t know a damn thing about their situation blaming them for it.

              There’s nothing easy or simple about leaving an abuser, or cutting off contact with them.

              For years, people blamed my mom for not leaving my dad, and said she was a terrible parent for letting her kids be around someone who treated her like that. Guess what? She left, my dad pushed for 50/50 custody and got it, and during those weeks we lost the only buffer we had between us and the anger. This was exactly what she was worried about, and she was told she was making excuses; people talked about her behind her back, but she knew the situation best, because she was the one who was living it.

              1. Green*

                Sure, but paying guests can not want to be involved in a situation and prefer that their experience (which they’re paying for) not be marred by violence and drama and can not want their safety to be at risk.

                You can both have compassion for someone and not want anything to do with it.

                1. Tara R.*

                  I think that sentiment can be expressed without finger-wagging at the victim for “inviting” her abuser in when we have absolutely no idea what the circumstances behind that are.

                2. Green*

                  I don’t think there’s any indication that that’s what they said in their request for comp or their reviews…

                1. This Daydreamer*

                  Unfortunately, an abuser doesn’t always just take their own life. In fact, threatening suicide is a huge red flag.

              2. CM*

                “then they get revictimized by people who don’t know a damn thing about their situation blaming them for it.”

                Thank you for this, it’s so helpful for me to hear as a reminder when I have thoughts that start with “but why don’t you…”

          2. Agent Diane*

            Except, well, violence like this could happen at any hotel. You don’t know what’s going on in any other room. There could be someone using coercive control right next door and you’ve no way of knowing.

            The guests were right to call the cops. The request for comps and the leaving of trashing reviews are selfish at best.

            The person who was violent is responsible for the violence, not the victim nor the property. Why destroy someone’s rep for something over which they had no control?

            1. mark132*

              Because I don’t want to stay at place where violence is common. A single review, I would view as an aberration. A pattern of reviews is what I’m looking for.

              I’m looking for a quiet comfortable night sleep, and review is simply that a review. Whether the review is “great breakfast, comfortable bed, and friendly staff” vs. “cops were called due to couple having a fight”.

            2. Green*

              I’m going to disagree about the request for comps being “selfish.” They weren’t getting what they paid for–a safe, comfortable place to stay.

            3. Indoor Cat*

              I mean…alright, this could, potentially, happen at any hotel. And I know I’m not exactly a world traveller, but when I stay at hotels (or eat at restaurants, or buy things on Amazon) I do leave reviews.

              Hearing a violent fight would be, by far, the scariest hotel experience I’ve ever had in my life. I’ve never been in a hotel where I heard or saw violence; I’ve also never been in a hotel that caught fire, even though that is a thing that could potentially happen at any hotel as well.

              But, good grief, it’d be a bizarre omission to leave a hotel review talking about the sheets and amenities and design and just leave out the most vivid part of the experience.

              Frankly, if there has been violence at a hotel I stayed at, it possible that I didn’t know because that hotel’s security is on point, or because the rooms are maximally soundproofed– features that really are relevant to hotel design and ensure a positive customer experience.

              The takeaway for a hotel manager would be to employ enough security personnel, and have staff well-trained enough, that there would be an intervention in any audible verbal conflict before it escalated to physical violence on their property. In retrospect, that’s almost definitely been the case at the hotels that consistently get 5 stars.

              A bad review isn’t blaming the victim for abuse, it’s blaming a hotel for slacking on security.

        9. Bea*

          It depends on the hotel’s response to the chaos. They shouldn’t need to ask to be comped, the place wasn’t safe and police were involved.

          I had a time a bong got thrown through my hotel window. I had a shattered window and told the clerk. They were pissed and assumed I did it. Yeah me and my aging parents are known to be throwing pipes through windows, that’s us! We got chased out at 4am. And clawing my way up to the top to complain, I still got about $35 refund. That’s not cool and the cost of business is you comp everyone if there’s a huge disturbance.

          So the hotel is still on the hook.

      2. Joshua*

        Certainly, there’s a need to balance a company’s needs around liability of security – not denying that point. I don’t know the specifics of this business or what is feasible or not. However, just as an FYI – most towns have a large shortage of domestic violence shelters with huge waitlists (made more complicated if the survivor has children, pets, is male, etc.). Most domestic violence organizations that I’m aware of in the US encourage survivors to find a place to stay with a relative or friend (which can be a big barrier for a lot of people – because, one of the tactics of the abuser is to isolate the individual away from all support systems). This might vary city to city, but just wanted to put it out there because I think there’s often a misconception that someone can “just go to a shelter” and often that really isn’t a viable option.

    2. Lilo*

      Yeah while OP can offer resources a one-person or small business just doesn’t have the resources to adequately protect someone. OP can’t sacrifice her own well being or potentially wreck her business doing this, that doesn’t help anyone. Offer appropriate help and referrals, but admit when something is outside of your ability to fix.

    3. Bea*

      Fml this reminds me of the people above us one time. I woke up to screaming and crashes. I ran to the front desk with the concerns. The response was “idk why they put you in that room! Those ppl just do that…we can move you tho.” WTF WTF WTF. It was just accepted those perma guests throw things and scream.

      I was more concerned of their safety than a comp.

      1. Lumen*

        This is a very good example of how far-reaching abusive people can be with their ability to twist people’s reality. Even someone they are not directly abusing can end up falling into the mindset of “oh, this is normal; this is just what they do”. Especially if they’re telling everyone that their victim is “crazy”.

        It sounds like the front desk, in order to be able to wash their hands of it but also sleep at night, decided to agree that Oh Yes This is Perfectly Normal when it isn’t. None of that is normal.

    4. hari*

      Hang on. I understand the reluctance to assume liability but there were people who thought they should be comped free rooms because someone got assaulted? And then complained on social media. How is that in anyway the hotel’s (i assume you are a hotel) fault. How callous can some people get?

      1. Triple Anon*

        I understand being scared and concerned for your safety, but it wasn’t the hotel’s fault. Sad situation all around.

      2. Green*

        Other guests’ behavior can absolutely be a reason to get a comp, if their behavior results in the guests not getting what they were paying for–a safe, quiet, comfortable place to stay.

    5. Leslie knope*

      I know this is the nature of capitalism and why it’s evil and everything but today’s letters have really driven home why I just hate it. People feeling like it’s even a contest between the liability of a company and someone’s well being is disheartening as hell. Like, sure, I get it, but damn if the judgment isn’t still there.

      1. Indoor Cat*

        I think there’s room for a “why not both?” solution where nobody is wrong. Guests who might’ve been terrified, or even re-traumatized, by witnessing a violent attack, didn’t do anything wrong. The victim didn’t do anything wrong either.

        A solution that involves compensating the guests, and emotionally validating and alleviating any suffering they endured by witnessing violence (which may be enough on it’s own; if not, monetary compensation might be able to be used to get additional counselling), while, at the same time, continuing to reach out to the victim to help her find a safe place to stay, is a good one. It’s not an either / or.

  7. Observer*

    The cell phone offer doesn’t have to be expensive. Offer her a dumb phone with no data – you can get a phone for ~20m and even unlimited talk and text doesn’t need to cost more than $25 pr month.

  8. wheeeee*

    I have no advice, but I am sending good thoughts to the employee and to the OP. This employee is lucky to have a caring supervisor. I hope this story has a happy ending.

  9. Joshua*

    I used to work for a women’s protection NGO dealing with domestic abuse – the signs are definitely here. Are there local resources you could find and share with her? Consider even reaching out to a reputable organization and just ask for generic advice about local resources or what you can do as an employer (without violating your employee’s privacy). Also, let her know that if she wants to meet with an advocate from one of these resources she can do so during work hours or even at your offices.

    In the event that you need to let her go, consider offering her housing in the future if she ever needs it (whether she’s employed or not). Not having financial means to leave is one of the largest factors that keep women from leaving (as is concern about children/pets). Knowing that she has a safe place to stay could mitigate some of the concerns created by no longer having a job. I know it’s hard to keep in touch – but depending on your relationship, consider checking in every so often to let her know that you’re still there and thinking about her. Feeling isolated is another barrier.

    Finally, not that you are doing this, but try and be compassionate. It can take survivors an average of 7 times or more to leave an abusive situation. There are so many factors at play – and at the end of the day it is VERY difficult to leave on a lot of levels. So, just keep this in mind and remember that even if from the outside it looks like she could change things, ultimately she is the victim and everything is much harder on the inside.

    1. Joshua*

      Also, thanks for being so thoughtful about this! At the end of the day, each of us needs to be advocates and offer what help we can. 1 in 3 women experience intimate partner violence during their lifetime. If all bosses were as intentional as you, that would be a big help!

    2. AKchic*

      All of this.

      I mean, yes, you want to protect your business… but at the same time, you want to be a compassionate human being towards the person who has been your employee for 6 years, and, if she wasn’t being abused, could be a rockstar for you for another decade or more.

    3. GradNowLawyerLater*

      “Also, let her know that if she wants to meet with an advocate from one of these resources she can do so during work hours or even at your offices.”

      This is really good advice. OP, hope you see this.

        1. Jaydee*

          Thirded. Also, work may be a safe place for her for other types of things that wouldn’t be a huge burden for you. — to stash a “go bag” with clothes, toiletries, etc. in case she ever needs to leave home quickly
          — to keep important documents (birth certificate or immigration paperwork, SS card, car title/copy of registration and insurance info, etc.) where her abuser can’t access them
          — to receive mail she doesn’t want her abuser to see
          — to use the computer and phone to access info about DV shelters and advocacy organizations, apply for apartments, contact friends and relatives, etc.

        2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          Yes. Having the opportunity to access resources while at work (or during work hours) can be a huge gamechanger for someone in a DV situation.

      1. Glowcat*

        Yes! It’s very kind and brave of OP to want to help, but this is an extremely delicate situation; it’s better to also involve someone trained to deal with it.

    4. Emmie*

      People often think that leaving the abuser will solve the victim’s / survivor’s issues. Abuse does continue after leaving. The victim is at the highest risk of death when she leaves. Abusers will / can continue to call the OP, show up at or call her home or work; follow her, control her money, use the court systems to manipulate custody, etc . . . I say this only to prepare the OP that her employee has a long road to recovery. As time passes, she will have new realizations about how abusive he was – in ways she previously did not understand. (*I use she to refer to the victim. Men are victims too. **Note to all: ask the person if she’d like to be referred to as a victim or survivor. It means different things to different people.)

      1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        Absolutely, especially the point of being at highest risk of being murdered when the person being abused leaves. As Joshua notes, it can take a person many attempts to leave before they are finally able to cut ties, and even then, there’s a great deal of work to be done after leaving.

        The part that I find most alarming and frustrating (in addition to blaming someone for not leaving) is the misconception that once someone leaves, things resolve. They don’t. When they leave, there’s the immediate threat of violence, and often ongoing stalking and menacing, as well as the ongoing threat of murder. And if you have a police department that does not understand DV or children, it’s a whole other level.

        1. AKchic*

          Additionally… it gets even worse if the abuser happens to be an officer or tied to law enforcement in some way. And that is so much more common than people would imagine.

  10. Doug Judy*

    I have no advice that hasn’t already been said. I just hope this has a good update. Several years ago a coworker of mine was in an abusive relationship. I didn’t know her super well, but she had worked there for years and it was widely known, but no one really knew what to do about it and management was definitely not supportive on offering resources. It had a very tragic ending and it’s stuck with me. I don’t know if there was anything anyone could have done, but I always wonder.

    OP just caring enough to write in is amazing. Hoping this has a happy update.

  11. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

    OP, this is an awful situation. I agree with all of Alison’s advice—it’s going to be important to separate the abuse from the job duties. It may be the case that work is one of her only lifelines outside of her relationship. That said, if her absences and dropped duties exceed what you would accommodate through medical or FMLA leave, then there’s a significant performance issue, and you cannot take on the guilt or fear of increasing her vulnerability.

    You may want to call the National DV Hotline for advice and assistance. I’ve used them (and referred victims of DV), and I think they’re really helpful.

    I also wanted to share this resource, which provides policies, tools, and strategies for employers/workplaces around domestic violence. It has a lot of great guidance, model policies, and educational resources. It also has a Guide for Supervisors who may be at their wit’s end.

    Here are some additional resources:
    Cambridge, Mass. Department of Public Health DV Guidebook
    Cornell Law School Gender Justice Clinic DV Resources for Private Employers
    ABA Model Workplace DV Policy

      1. Old Admin*

        I agree, I am in awe of Mrs Hammond’s ;-) comment!

        Also, I remember the organization RAINN has been able to help other posters on this website. (I’m thinking of a victim’s boss who was related to the abuser, and how RAIIN and the advice here helped him to compassionately handle the awkward situation.)

      2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        Thank you! I find that folks usually feel paralyzed when it comes to DV showing up in the workplace, but OP sounds like the kind of compassionate boss who wants to figure out how to make things work (if possible) while minimizing the risk of violence against their employee. That may become untenable, but OP sounds especially thoughtful.

  12. Nita*

    “…and at the end of the three months, she went back to him.” Oh no, OP, I think you’re fighting a losing battle in trying to help her. I hope I’m wrong. I do agree with Alison that the job is probably a crucial lifeline for her, and she’d be much worse off without it. One though, and I don’t know if this is a good idea so I hope others chime in – next time she doesn’t show up and has been injured, can you call the local police to do a wellness check, and let them know that you’re aware of a long pattern of abuse? Maybe putting the abuser behind bars will finally put an end to this.

    1. Lilo*

      I briefly worked as a secretary for a prosecutor. There is a reason DV cases are generally handled by special staff in a prosecutor’s office. You have to deal with often uncooperative, sometimes verbally abusive victims. That doesn’t mean that the victims don’t need help or you don’t prosecute those cases, but that you do need special training and resources. The layman just doesn’t have the tools.

    2. Les G*

      Do you have any idea how hard it is to leave an abusive situation? It’s chilling that you think a woman who went back to her abuser (which describes a huuuuuuge percentage of abuse victims) is a lost cause.

      Thanks to the OP for your committment to keeping your employee safe. And thanks Alison for your thoughtful answer about how to do that.

      1. Pollygrammer*

        I don’t think Nita means that the employee is a lost cause when she says “losing battle.” But getting her out of the abusive situation is probably going to be beyond the abilities of an employer, who is not going to be in a position to have that much persuasive influence.

        1. Snark*

          Yeah, this. My parents went through this as employers of an abuse victim, and while your association with the person is close and takes up a lot of your day, you’re not actually so intimately connected to them that you can do much. It’s a terribly helpless situation to find yourself in.

        2. Nita*

          Yes. Definitely didn’t mean she’s a lost cause. Just that it’s that much harder for OP, or anyone, to help if she’s going back. In the end, the laws here don’t do a whole lot to help abuse victims, so if they’re not able to fight for themselves, the outcome is often so much worse.

        3. Falling Diphthong*

          Or any third party.

          If there were that one really clever thing that you say that makes the abused person say “Oh! I really should stop tolerating this person and their abusive behavior” then we would say it to them. (And that’s not limited to abusive romantic partners.)

      2. JM60*

        It is chilling to think that a woman who returned to her abuser would be likely to keep returning to him/her. But just because it’s chilling doesn’t mean that it isn’t true. I think AAM’s advice here is on the right track. She should be treated with compassion, but this may not be sustainable for the OP, and may not be something that the OP can fix.

    3. Joshua*

      I would hesitate to call the police. It can escalate the situation and make matters worse. Plus, if she is in a state that has mandatory arrest policies, it could lead to the survivor being arrested which can make custody and leaving / finding a job that much more difficult. Plus, if she has kids in the house at the time she will (in some states) be charged with endangering children which makes it even worse.

      It’s not uncommon that the individual went back – it takes an average of 7 attempts to finally leave a violent situation for good – so don’t judge her for that.

      The best thing is to find local resources that specialize in this and hook her up with an advocate that can help navigate this.

      1. Joshua*

        Survivors feel powerless – one of the keys to moving through this and into the next stage of life is to empower them. Give them resources and options, but ultimately the decision to involve the police can have a lot of repercussions and involve a lot emotionally/legally so it is a decision they need to be empowered to make for themselves. Obviously, if you have reason to believe there is imminent threat/danger or she is missing for an extended period of time that is different…but, I wouldn’t involve them just because you are concerned in general.

        1. Snark*

          Involving the police could also lead to some unanticipated outc0mes if the employee or her spouse are POCs, as well.

        2. AnonSurvivorVictim*

          A lot of that powerless feeling comes actually from the waiting for the justice system/investigative process. I have done the “right thing” and turned in the guy. Took more than one trip to the police station before I was believed/had enough evidence. I have put up with the whispers and the side eye. And now I’m just waiting. It’s been over a year, and I’m stuck in an endless loop of the justice system.

          My investigation made it to the bottom of my detective’s pile more than once because I wasn’t a serious enough crime. I’ve been rotated through more district attorneys than I want to remember — and they don’t return voicemails to tell you how things are going until weeks later. I have to check the online court records, which don’t get updated until more than a week after the actual hearing to find out that my case got continued again. His bail was set at a laughable amount. My emergency restraining order was denied because he didn’t do anything ‘bad enough’, which shocked my victim advocate to the point that she cursed. I can’t even find a freaking support group for my particular crime in my area. Or one online.

          Should I ever get anywhere with my case, the probability of him getting any meaningful conviction is practically nil. But as long as he can keep throwing money at his lawyer to keep continuing the case, he can keep living life as normal. I’m stuck in the hellscape of looking over my shoulder perpetually.

          1. Lady Ariel Ponyweather*

            I’m so sorry. This is just evil. Sending all the good thoughts and really hope things work out for you soon.

      2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        I agree with Joshua on all of this, especially on the points about involving the police. Unfortunately, IME, most police departments are not trained to handle DV and perpetuate really problematic beliefs about survivors of abuse. Calling them can place the employee at greater risk than she currently faces. But OP should call local resources or RAINN or the National DV Hotline for advice, as they can help OP provide an approach that may be safer than going the traditional law enforcement reporting route.

    4. AKchic*

      Leaving an abusive relationship is hard. Very hard. It’s like an addiction. Not the abuse victim is addicted to the abuse, but the abuser is addicted to abusing. They have trained/conditioned the victim so thoroughly that it doesn’t take much to regain control once the victim has left. The most dangerous time for a victim is when they leave. Why? Because the abuser has lost control. They have to reassert control, so they escalate. Depending on the victim, they may be defiant; which infuriates the abuser and could cause even more escalation.

      My state is dangerous for women. We had to start an underground network for abuse/assault victims because the legit programs aren’t enough and the justice system is a joke.

      1. Joshua*

        Yes, unfortunately the legal/justice system makes it in some ways harder on the survivor than the abuser. It’s a really complicated net of resources / government entitites to navigate. And some laws, frankly, are terrible and sexist. For example – mandatory arrest laws for domestic violence which is as likely to arrest the wrong party (or both people). Plus, complications around child abuse/custody when DV is taking place in the home. It’s a lot to figure out and at the end of the day the abuser is rarely prosecuted. Plus, so many factors make this process even more impossible (i.e. immigration status, health, etc.).

        1. AKchic*

          I hear you. The bull I have had to deal with, both personally and as a volunteer are ridiculous.

          My 16 year old told me last week that he wants to apply for an overseas program. That will require me to get him a passport. That means going back to court. He knows its dangerous for all of us, but he so badly wants this opportunity.
          So… here I am, looking at everything in case I need to move my family of 6 (plus 4 pets) in a hurry. We haven’t been in hiding for a decade.

    5. Turquoisecow*

      I doubt he’d stay behind bars for long, though. Abuse is difficult to prove, and bail is a thing that exists.

    6. Anonforthis*

      Most DV victims go back to their abuser seven times before being able to leave permanently. I work in a DV shelter and a lot of our clients cycle in and out. For a lot of them it’s more the logistics of living in an expensive city, often with limited education and/or English skills and young children. Them being able to live independently and take care of their kids on low-wage jobs is just not possible here, and often they’re making the terrible choice between homelessness and abuse. It’s really awful.

      1. Joshua*

        All of this.

        Plus, many cities have very limited shelter space…made more difficult to find if the survivor has children (particularly older male children which might age out of a women’s shelter), pets, or if the survivor is male. Plus most shelters are really a very temporary option.

        So many factors go into leaving: children, pets, money, many are isolated from all support systems, there might be legal issues depending on the state/circumstances that make moving or getting a job harder…plus emotional: remember that despite the terrible abuse this is still a loved one and it’s not easy for anyone in any circumstance to leave their partner.

        1. Joshua*

          Not to mention immigration status and the current climate / fear that makes this community even more likely to not seek out resources.

      2. This Daydreamer*

        Wow. Are you working in the same place I am? Everything you said is painfully familiar.

    7. Bea*

      DV rarely resorts in long jail sentences. Just like sexual assault and other horrifying crimes. Jail makes violent people worse not better.

    8. teclatrans*

      Check out the link Alison posted in her comment above. The comment by Marie discusses exactly this conundrum ( what I got from it is: it isn’t that simple, and ‘going back to him’ is more complicated than that)

      1. Falling Diphthong*

        I’ve found her advice–I think it’s her–to not help normalize makes a lot of sense. Pushing back against “all relationships are like this” when they aren’t.

    9. MM*

      Calling the cops could really, really backfire really badly. I don’t know where OP is, of course, but in general police departments don’t have a great record of handling these things, and the abuser is likely to punish the victim for calling the cops or inspiring anyone else to do so–leading to greater isolation, further violence, and/or even more attentive surveillance. I would only ever do it if I could hear or see a violent assault happening right in front of me, like with my (hypothetical) next-door neighbors, and I thought immediate intervention would save a life right then. If the cops show up to an abusive home at almost any other time, they’re at least as likely to touch off such an assault as they are to prevent one.

  13. debonairess*

    Thanks for being so supportive to your employee, OP.

    Ditto the comments above.

    In terms of having the conversation Alison mentioned, some advice about brokering that topic and also a few tips for workplaces who suspect similar situation:
    (Hope this gets through the spam filter okay)
    stop relationship abuse [dot] org / help / how to help a coworker
    national domestic violence helpline / blog/ how to help a coworker who is suffering abuse

    Re being at the end of your rope – you are allowed to feel stressed about the situation. It sounds extremely stressful on both an emotional and professional level. Try not to feel guilty that the situation is hard for you, too. It’s hard *because* you are compassionate. You are not the abuser or the one putting your employee in this situation – please remember that.

  14. Bea*

    My blood ran cold that she just doesn’t show up. That’s how someone goes missing and is never heard from again. She honestly may need help leaving the entire area because by boarding her, your property is at risk for when he escalates to stalking. What a horrifying position to be in.

  15. Lynca*

    In addition to the phone she may want a safe word/phrase that only you and she know about that she can text/say when she needs help.

    I feel for you OP. I’ve seen several women struggle with domestic violence. We had a co-worker of my mother’s live with us for months after her boyfriend assaulted her. It allowed her to keep her job since my mother took her to work everyday. Research what you have locally to support domestic violence victims and don’t be afraid to offer the contact numbers to the employee.

    1. NVHEng*

      If she has no phone and has to use her SO’s phone to contact you, then calling in sick may be her only opportunity to reach out for help. I recommend developing a phrase you can use to ask if things are okay and a legit response she can use to say she is okay and doesn’t need help, or that she does need help, and what level of help she needs.

      Ex: I’m glad you called, I am looking for the red file folder I had last week. Have you seen it?

      Safe answer : it’s in the right hand desk drawer.

      Not safe but don’t call 911 answer : it’s under the green folder.

      Not safe – call 911 answer : “I don’t know” or “It’s under the red folder” or really anything except desk drawer / green folder.

      This gives the employee a chance to ask for help in a way that is not going to arouse suspicion and allows you to document events if she is willing to let you know when things are not okay. We used this when I was in college and a friend was in an abusive relationship. She used the help word once (kumquat) and that was enough for the pre planning to be worthwhile.

      Seconding the idea that maybe you can hire a second temp to cover days, especially if there is a pattern. This would allow her to stay connected and not isolated (and continue to earn money, which she will need if/when she decides to move out) without keeping the burden on you to do her job.

      You may also ask if she needs to change her direct deposit to add an account (one that is not accessible or controlled by the SO). If her hours are irregular then depositing a percentage of each check in another account may not be noticed by the SO. Similarly, if she needs to plan an escape then allowing her to bring a change of clothing (one piece at a time or a bag full) and her documentation to work etc could be helpful.

      Whatever you do to help her, let her be in control of decisions that affect her.

      Good luck OP!

  16. namelesscommentator*

    Like you would accommodate an injury or disability, are there small (or large) ways you could make it easier for her to complete assigned duties? For instance, If showing up is the biggest roadblock, can you institute flex hours? Or offer her rides? If she doesn’t have a cell can you make e-mail the go-to communication (or see if a work funded cell would be okay).

    Seek out local resources to see what’s available to her specifically, when she is ready for help (& in that case, it may not be safe for her to go to a known location), so having a list of shelters ready will be a huge resource. They may also have more specific advice on how to navigate the working relationship.

    1. Rosa*

      Yes this!! I was a DV victim and I (luckily) managed to hold onto my job but it was very very difficult. I felt too afraid to tell work but I actually would have hugely appreciated someone asking what was going on and if there were ways they could support. For example, some days it would have helped to work from home (when recovering from an injury) or just for staff to be aware that if I seemed spaced out there was a reason. On top of the DV the fear that you will lose your job is terrifying so anything that can be put in place to help her to help you avoid that do it.

  17. Anonamoose*

    While not quite the same case, I’m reminded of a previous letter by a manager whose employee was abused by his (estranged) family. I remember he reached out to RAINN before he talked to the employee and said they were helpful in tailoring his approach. (letter update discussing RAINN here:, as well as link in letter to original post). I would RAINN or a similar service would also help you figure out the best way to help your employee.

  18. wayward*

    If you allow her to stay on the premises, would it be possible to get a court order banning the spouse from the property?

    1. Joshua*

      It depends a lot on the circumstances of this situation and the state the survivor is in…but either way, that is going to require the consent of the survivor and it’s something that she should initiate. Obviously, if the abuser shows up at the workplace and is violent or threatening – then the business could call police and take action on their own. But, for the survivor to get a restraining order requires her to report her abuse and that’s not an easy decision and it’s something she should be empowered to make for herself.

    2. This Daydreamer*

      A private business can pretty much ban anyone, as long as it isn’t because of the person being in a protected class.

  19. Lady Phoenix*

    I might have a sit down with her the kind with the door closed na dthe intercom off–not to fire her, but to let her know you have concerns about your welfare and that your office will be open if she needs to talk or find a solution about getting out. Also mention RAINN and any abuse hotlines.

  20. HRHero*

    Domestic violence victims are a protected class in our state. Might want to check as it may change your response a bit.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I’m familiar with those state laws, and they’re great. But they generally mean you can’t use the domestic violence as a reason to fire someone, not that DV victims can’t be fired at all (similar to laws protecting people with disabilities, etc.).

    2. Bea*

      Like FLMA, those laws are geared towards large employers who can absorb holding a job for someone while they seek assistance.

      They also have to disclose that they’re seeking shelter and have a police report. You can’t just assume despite every sign pointing directly at DV :(

    3. Just Curious*

      Other than being in compliance with state laws, is there anything that mandates an employer do anything to retain an employee who has an absenteeism issue?

      Most places I have ever worked it seems wouldn’t have hesitated to fire this employee for the performance issues, with the attitude that whatever goes on at work is strictly OP’s business/problem. As far as I knew this was not necessarily illegal either.

    4. Lissa*

      I don’t think that means someone automatically gets more protections if an employer suspects, though. The person would have to disclose, I’d assume. otherwise you’ll end up with situations where an employer assumes wrongly and it really was the cat, etc.

  21. Typist Calligraphy*

    The absolute hardest part for me is to provide resources and then wait for the person to decide whether or how to use them. I’ve run in to a few obvious cases of elder abuse and domestic violence while working the polls at state and federal elections. (The fundamental civic right to participate in government is a hot bed for the kinds of control abusers like to exert over the abused, and I never knew though it does make sense in retrospect.)

    I have enough seniority at the polls to take the time to step away from the line and talk to anyone who opens up about their struggles. They’re usually there in a brief window of time they could get to themselves, and they often complain about voter fraud along the lines of “they registered me as vote by mail, took my ballot and said they’d vote and submit it for me, but I don’t want that, I want to vote here.”

    I listen to their stories of exploitation and powerlessness and hurt, told in great but never egregious detail and with great but maybe mismatched feeling, and… I have to remember I am a poll-worker at an election, a one-day temporary employee with no real means to help other than offer up county services for them to use. And I never get to know if it’s done anything, what happens to them afterward, and it is so frustrating.

    If there’s something more I can do, I hope someone can let me know. My heart aches for how powerless I am to help, I can only imagine what it’s like to be in the abused’s shoes and the courage it takes to step into the polling place knowing it’s a center of power for their abuser.

    1. overcaffeinatedandqueer*

      Odd question but it makes me think, since vote meddling is in the news and you know what to watch for, and I might like to be a poll worker: how do you deal with abusers who go vote with their partners? Of course, one is alone in the ballot box, but do you see influence or control over the vote/the person otherwise?

      1. Typist Calligraphy*

        Poll workers generally don’t intervene, they report. The election coordinator’s job is to enforce voter laws; they are a phone call away, which is sometimes short but rarely immediate, because they handle 5-7 precincts at a time.

        I don’t see many obvious abusers come in to vote with the one they’re abusing. I believe it’s far, far more common with vote-by-mail registration, which happens at home. The anecdote above was that: the abused came in because they were unwillingly registered vote by mail and had their ballot harvested by their abuser.

        I want to emphasize this for anyone who may be in a similar situation: YOU CAN ALWAYS CAST A VOTE. If you show up to a polling place that isn’t yours, or when you’re vote by mail but don’t have those materials, we just give you a provisional envelope to put your ballot into. All that means, well and truly, is that the ballot is reviewed by hand for eligibility. If you come to vote in person and mark that your VBM materials were lost or stolen, it is highly likely they will invalidate any VBM materials that come in against your name and count the provisional instead.

        When I do see something questionable, especially something that’s time sensitive, I basically put on my customer service face and ask if they need any assistance, or if they would please respect other voters by lowering their voices, etc. By virtue of checking every single voter in, I do know names, so it’s easier for someone to follow up after the election.

        I have a script I’m supposed to follow when checking voters in, a fairly specific one they walk us through every training, but I do deviate a little if something looks fishy. In this kind of situation, I emphasize that voting is a private and federally protected act, and… I write it down in the log. If there isn’t an overt disturbance, and if they don’t directly ask for help, I can’t do much more. As the other comments for this post show, any action I take without their consent could make things more dangerous for the them.

        Also, interestingly, to my knowledge, voting is not REQUIRED to be private. It’s just guaranteed that it CAN be. What is absolutely never allowed, outside of poll worker intervention which actually requires 2 workers to sign off on, is filling out a ballot on someone else’s behalf. That will get your ballot spoiled and you have to start over again. We have tables for accessibility voters, but anyone is free to use them. I had a mother with her teenage son voting for the first time show up with all his friends, and they spent about 1.5 hours poring through the election packet together.

        I highly encourage you to work the polls! It’s an amazing experience. I’ve rarely had negative encounters, and that’s from going through thousands of voters over the elections I’ve worked.

        *Caveat to everything I’ve said: I live in Northern California. YMMV for local and state variations on the above.

  22. SigneL*

    Can you give her a cell phone and say, “the job requires you to have a phone”?

    And has the OP considered what might happen if the abuser shows up at work?

  23. voluptuousfire*

    Only commenting to recommend the book Why Does He Do That?: Inside the Minds of Angry and Controlling Men by Lundy Bancroft. I picked it up based on a recommendation in a comment section of an article I read. Not sure if it was here? Either way, an enlightening read if you’re trying to get into the mindset of such individuals.

  24. Amy*

    This is a very difficult situation to be in, and there has been a lot of great advice. I’ve spent over a decade working within the domestic violence field and also am a survivor of DV. You’ve really gone above and beyond, but I know it’s hard and so disheartening to see her return to the situation. I second the comments of HRHero, many states have laws that give employees who are DV victims paid leave and several states and cities also have added domestic violence victims as a protected class to their human rights statute. Please check on your legal liabilities – this is a great resource:

    DV advocates often do a lethality assessment when a victim first comes to them and this often determines the level and intensity of services. From what you have described, this potentially sounds like a high lethality case, which is extremely dangerous. The one question I might ask is if there is a gun in her home. If there is, or her partner has access to a gun, this is very serious. Please encourage her to call or chat the national DV hotline: – they will point her to resources in her community. She needs an advocate, and they can help relieve some of the pressure off of you, and help her with her situation, which hopefully will improve her performance/attendance.

    As others have stated, I cannot convey to you how important it is to follow the employee’s lead – they are absolutely the expert on what may make their abuse better or worse. Not having a phone is a giant red flag, but don’t force her to take a free one or one you’ve paid for. If you do get a phone from a DV shelter, note that in the vast majority of cases it will only work to call 911. And sometimes survivors know they will never call 911. Follow her lead, but also contact the national DV hotline, they can help guide you through some of this. Hope you both can get some relief and safety soon to improve the job performance.

  25. pleaset*

    Imaging the OP saying this made my eyes tear up:
    “If you ever need a safe place to stay again, we can move you back on to the property, no questions asked.”

  26. Erika - OP*

    Ironically enough, I have an update on this, which I sent a week or more ago.

    My employee left her boyfriend. She left on Sunday, abandoned her car in our parking lot (didn’t speak with anyone about it), and wasn’t scheduled until today (when she showed up late). At the risk of sounding really petty, I’m a little annoyed about how she’s handling it, as she seems to be taking a lot of liberties about how much of this we deal with, as her employers.

    This also piggybacks on a 360 review on me, personally, which included a large amount of critical feedback of me. Basically, she feels I have become too involved in her personal life, which…given what I know of her personal life and how much of it she’s handed to me, stings quite a bit.

    It’s an awkward place to be, essentially, because she wants the closeness and the help but also resents me for it.

    Thanks to all of you for your compassion and kindness.

    1. Detective Amy Santiago*

      This sounds so hard, but please try to continue offering her support. I helped a friend leave an abusive relationship and it is so difficult.

      Stay safe.

    2. Belle8bete*

      Your frustration is normal. I know folks want to help the victim, but you also have to take care of yourself.

      Try to remember that she isn’t seeing things clearly. I hope you get advice from folks on continuing to deal with this.

    3. Snark*

      “It’s an awkward place to be, essentially, because she wants the closeness and the help but also resents me for it.”

      I’m not surprised she’s feeling this way, but I’m also sympathetic to you for feeling a little stung. I don’t think it’s petty for you to expect a little more communication and accountability as far as how she’s handling it when it involves your property and interests.

    4. Observer*

      I agree with the others. But, I also want to point out that if she abandoned her car in your parking lot, it makes sense that she didn’t talk to you about it. This way if BF sows up or asks you about her / the car you simply do not have any information to give> even if she trusts you not to willingly give information, she could be worried about his badgering you till you let something slip. If you don’t know anything, you can’t make any mistakes.

    5. Nita*

      That does sound frustrating. I’m sure she is not thinking straight right now. She might be under pressure to go back, or she may have to be very secretive about where she lives, where she gets her mail, whether she can take the same kind of transportation to work, everything really. It’s a stressful and risky time for her. Thank you for being supportive, even though it’s not easy.

    6. Agent Diane*

      Perhaps the feedback provides you with an opportunity to create the room to have the performance conversation? I suspect others can phrase things better – and take advice from people working with DV – but something like:

      “I’ve been reflecting on your feedback about me, and also about how we can focus on separating work and personal conversations. I want you to know I am always ready to discuss any personal circumstances you need to raise, and our offer of support stands. But I want you to know you’re in control of when we have those personal conversations, and I’ll take your lead in if we have those. Would focussing our conversations on work tasks right now help you?”

      Then focus on tasks for the week and only start raising performance issues once she’s had a couple of weeks adjusting?

    7. Bones*

      For whatever it’s worth, I think it speaks volumes to your character that you’ve retained your compassion in all this.

    8. BadWolf*

      I think in this situation, you are more or less a safe person. So some of the bad feelings or lack of consideration can be dumped on you “safely.” Which doesn’t make it not annoying and or frustrating.

    9. kittycritter*

      I’m sorry – it kind of irks me on your behalf that you are expected to bend over backwards for this woman (and you have been!) and then she slams you for being too involved in her personal life. You’ve already done far & beyond what I personally would have, I am sorry she doesn’t appreciate what a good resource she has in you. Few things upset me more than going out of my way to help somebody, and then having said person essentially spit in my eye…….

    10. Close Bracket*

      It might seem like she is taking liberties, but the reality is probably closer to her not having much choice. I have seen DV up close. To get out, you sometimes have to be opportunistic, which might mean leaving your car at your work without telling anyone.

      It takes an average of 7 times for a DV victim to leave. That’s *average,* meaning some people need a lot more tries. Try not to judge if she goes back to him again. It’s difficult to leave someone you love, even when they beat the crap out of you. Look up trauma bonding for more insights.

      Thank you for all your compassion in this situation.

    11. This Daydreamer*

      Her abuser was almost certainly doing everything in his power to pull her away from you. And leaving the car there may have been a last minute effort to keep her abuser from taking it or tampering with it.

      Do you have a domestic violence shelter near you? That might be a safer place for her and you – you do NOT want this man showing up in the middle of the night. Also, a shelter could take a lot of the burden off of your shoulders.

      She may need a leave of absence, or a place for the cat to live for a while. Ultimately, you can only offer resources. She has to figure out what she needs to do. Make sure she knows what you can offer and what’s available in the community but you’re not going to be able to rescue her. You can assist and support her but you have to accept that it may not be enough. You have your business and yourself to take care of.

      Good luck. I know this has to be really tough for you.

  27. Trek*

    My only experience with this was brief so my knowledge is limited. However we made sure our security had a picture of her abuser, his license plate and make/model of truck just in case he came to work. Then I worked out with her that if she called/emailed that she would be out-either is fine in our company-if she she included her middle name in her signature or voice mail I knew she was in trouble and I’d send police.

  28. Penelope*

    Depending on how the conversation goes and how close she can get to helping, they could develop a code like, “I left the file on your desk” to indicate the worker felt particularly very unsafe or in imminent danger, on the phone or in person, or even as she was walking out of the door.

    I too was in an abusive relationship and never told anyone while it was happening for so many reasons, but having a safe place would have helped so very much. My employer was not a safe space at all so I would never have brought it up to them.

  29. Ungenannt hier*

    Ugh, this sounds awful and complicated. I agree that work is a lifeline and a space to be free from relationship problems. Violence is such a tricky issue and can end up endangering those who try to help as well. And I don’t know that there is a way to change violent partners.

    I’m thankful I never had this experience- I have dealt with emotional abuse and levels of control I was not comfortable with, which was at least possible to resolve (w/r/t my partner- parents are another issue), with professional help for both my partner and I, separate and together, and simply making enough money that my spending money or going places as the non-bill-managing partner doesn’t need to be tightly watched since we aren’t choosing between pet food and tampons any more. I have more confidence and autonomy, while my partner has learned to allow me time and space to speak and decide for myself.

    I simply can’t fathom the leap to physical violence, though. There’s no communication or learning to be done there, at least not among the couple. You can’t reason with it.

    I really hope the employee has left for good this time!

  30. justcourt*

    I think it’s admirable that you’re concerned for your employee and have helped her in the past. I hope you’re taking steps to protect yourself, though. A friend of my mom was murdered by an abuser after she helped his victim. It’s not only partners that are in danger from abusers— people close to victims can be in danger, as well. I don’t say this to discourage you from helping; I just think you need to be aware of the risk so that you can help your employee and protect yourself.

    1. Erika - OP*

      This was part of why I was irritated that she brought us into the situation without much information; she’s told pretty much everyone beneath me the nitty-gritty details of her life, but has left me and upper management in the dark, which I think is crummy.

  31. VictorianCowgirl*

    I have a bit of a different take from my experience – if she leaves her abuser, she’d be safer to have a new job he doesn’t know about. Any chance OP could help arrange that at the time?

  32. Khlovia*

    Please consider the possibility that your employee feels it necessary to distance herself from you because her abuser knows where she works, and knows who you are. Knows what you look like. Knows what kind of car you drive. In general, knows stuff.

    1. This Daydreamer*

      More to the point, this is a man who has already been violent to get his way and you could become a target if you threaten his control over your employee.

    2. Erika - OP*

      This is going to sound very cold, but given the way she handled leaving last year, I doubt that was a consideration. She’s been very inward-facing and not remotely private with her information – where she’s staying, who she’s with, etc – so I doubt it was a security issue, from her viewpoint.

  33. Laura*

    I grew up in a violent home so this is very real. I want to say one thing though. When the employer put her up at the business location away from the abuser she went back to him despite getting free for the 3 months. She even presumably had some time to find a better safer situation and potentially to save her money from work. Either there isn’t enough information about why she had to go back even though she had the generous support of her employer or she is still in flux about leaving him. The employer has already supported her a lot. The employee shows multiple signs of being co-dependent. This is probably a losing game for both the employee and the employer. I hope it works out with a bit more support, but the employer should have this talk asap and try to ascertain if the employee is actually going to be able to continue if she stays with her relationship. If it looks like she won’t help herself by making changes in her life then it may be better to let her go and force her to take responsibility for herself and make changes. The employer can still support from afar but she does not need the hit to her business or the potential danger she is putting herself in. I agree with the poster above that suggested finding another employee part-time so that person can get trained before she is needed. The new employee can take over full time later or get folded into the seasonal staff if she wants. This way the employer is helping herself the new employee and the problematic one all at the same time.

  34. Candace*

    I’ve been on both sides of this situation myself – in an abusive relationship and as a manager of someone being stalked. I second Alison’s recommendation of Marie’s comments. Also, if there is a way to reach out to her to offer physical protection and help getting a restraining order, I have helped a staff member with both of those, and they were grateful. Yes, including actually helping someone get a bodyguard for a time (while the woman served her abusive husband with divorce papers). This may not always be feasible, of course. But it was a viable option in that case.

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