Helping a Coworker in an Abusive Relationship


If someone is experiencing abuse at home, the effects of the abuse are likely to carry over into the work environment as well. You may notice changes in their behavior at work that could indicate something is wrong.

Warning Signs of Abuse

Warning signs that may show up in the workplace environment include:

  • Excessive tardiness or unexplained absences
  • Frequent use of ‘sick time’
  • Unexplained injuries or bruising
  • Changes in appearance
  • Lack of concentration/being preoccupied more often
  • Disruptive phone calls or personal visits from their partner
  • Drops in productivity
  • Sensitivity about home life or hints of trouble at home

Approach Them in a Confidential Manner

Be sure to approach them in a confidential manner at a time and place without interruptions.

When bringing up the topic of domestic violence with your coworker remember to be nonjudgmental. They may be embarrassed by the situation, and you might be the first person they are telling.

Follow your instinct and if you feel like you should talk to them about what might be going on, do so at an appropriate time. The worst that could happen is that they don’t want to talk – and even then, they at least know that you care.

Consider beginning the conversation with a simple statement and question like: “You seem a bit preoccupied and stressed. Do you want to talk about it?” Give them the space to share what they want to share with you. Don’t pressure them.

Listen Non-Judgementally

If your coworker does open up to you about the abuse, listen to what they have to say and be prepared to hear graphic details. Your role is not to fix the problem for them – sometimes, listening is the most helpful thing you can do. If it feels appropriate, pass on the number to Palomar: 405-522-1010.

Offer to Help Them Document the Abuse

If your coworker gives you permission, you can help them document instances of domestic violence. Take pictures of injuries, write down exact transcripts of interactions, and make notes on a calendar of the dates that things happen. Documenting the abuse might help the victim to obtain legal aid later on. Be sure to keep this information in a confidential location.

Help Them Learn About Their Rights

If your coworker has been open with you about their situation, you can help them learn about their rights. Women’s Law is an excellent resource for information on domestic violence laws and procedures. Browsing this website with your coworker or giving them the link can provide them with crucial information.

Ask If They Want to Create a Work Safety Plan

Introduce them to the security guard, or volunteer to meet the security guard with them if they’d like help. Keeping a security guard at the office in the loop can help deter your coworker’s abuser from stopping by and make sure your coworker is escorted safely to and from the office space.

Ask if they’d like to create a safety plan for their work environment. Ask what they would like you to do if their partner should call or stop by the office. If you’re having trouble coming up with a safety plan on your own, call Palomar for assistance.

Support Their Decisions

Above all, remember that just supporting your coworker no matter what can make a difference.

Respect their decisions – you may not know all of the factors involved. Your coworker may not do what you want or expect them to do. Instead of focusing on being the one to solve the problem for them, focus on being supportive, normalizing their experiences, and being trustworthy in their time of need.

You and the people you care about are not alone. They can meet with advocates to develop a safety plan here at Palomar, or call the state SafeLine at 1-800-522-7233.