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Identifying Warning Signs of Domestic Violence in Predominantly Male Workplace Environments

Domestic Violence, or the broader defined non-gender specific terminology, Intimate Partner Violence, acknowledges that abuse can exist in many types of intimate personal relationships. It is a serious public health issue with grave and potentially fatal consequences in the workplace.

Workplace violence was recently witnessed in Bakersfield, California which took the lives of six people; including the gunman. This incident demonstrates the pervasiveness and severity of intimate partner violence and how it can spillover into the workplace.

On average, 2 million American workers report being the victim of violence in the workplace. Violence and other injuries, by a person or animal, increased by 23% in 2016 to become the second-most common fatal event in the workplace. From 2015 to 2016 intentional injury by a person in the workplace increased 18%, homicides increased 19% and intentional shootings by another person increased 11% compared to the lowest year (2013). In a six-year period (2011 -2016) there was a 23% increase in homicides, and a 22% increase in shootings in the workplace (Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2017). According to the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control (part of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDCP), victims of intimate partner violence lose nearly $1.8 billion dollars of indirect cost and loss of productivity related to the incident and mental health concerns. This is often paid through employer-funded health insurance and costs an additional $4.1 billion a year (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2003).

The cost to companies and organizations can be astronomical! Businesses may violate federally protected discrimination laws if they take adverse action against victims. Further, businesses may be cited by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) under the “General Duty Clause” for failing to provide a safe and healthful workplace including workplace hazards caused by intimate partner violence. Generally, employers are not held liable for the conduct of a third party unless a special relationship exists. While there is no current research on the average litigation settlement in relation to workplace violence, the cost has been compared to that of sexual harassment. This comparison is “because incivility and sexual harassment often have similar characteristics when looking at time, productivity, and turnover” (Bandow & Hunter, 2007. p. 215-216). Another source estimates the outcomes of out-of-court settlement for lawsuits stemming from workplace violence can average $500,000 with jury verdicts averaging about $13 million (Larsen, K., n.d.). Such figures were noted in a 2016 trial where a California jury supported a plaintiffs claims of wrongful termination, failure to provide a workplace free from violence and bodily harm, and negligent infliction of emotional distress. The plaintiff was awarded $2,393,540 in compensatory damage and $5,000,000 in punitive damages (Yowan Yang v. ActioNet, Inc., 2016).

Whether we are aware or not, these statistics highlight the severity and impact that intimate partner violence can have on the employee and the employer. Such figures should command or, at least, garner the attention of administrators, employees, employers, managers, human resources personnel, and security staff alike.

As I have traveled throughout the country, to instruct, train, and assist companies in developing workplace strategies to identify and combat workplace violence, I have noticed one consistent theme. When I start to discuss relationship violence as one of the occupational health classifications of workplace violence, the mood in the room changes, people become, reserved, guarded and less engaged. Moreover, I hear one consistent question being asked by managers: “How do I recognize intimate partner violence in my workplace?” While one indicator of intimate partner violence does not qualify identification can become more convoluted when I am asked “How do I recognize potential risks factors in a workplace which is predominantly male?” Another question that is slowly emerging is, “Are the risk factors or warning signs similar with predominantly female dominated workforces?” Interestingly enough, research has noted the warnings signs are relatively similar across genders and specifically note that one in every four women and one in ten men will experience domestic violence in their lifetime (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2003). Therefore, the question becomes more difficult to answer when we consider working environments that are predominantly occupied by males. Further questions such as, “How do I recognize early warning signs of disgruntled co-workers or managers, that may involve relationship issue?” “What are the warning signs of coworkers who maybe batterers prior to a tragedy occurring?” How do we recognize relationship triangles which may begin between coworkers outside of work and apart from their current romantic partner, that may link back to the working environment? Finally, how do we recognize and intervene with a coworkers on behalf of or before victimization or violence occurs and the resources invested in that employee are lost?

Preventive Measures:

  1. Recognize Intimate Partner Violence and its ability to reach into the workplace. Providing support may help employees and prevent workplace violence. (It is not a private issue but privacy and confidentiality need to be considered to avoid legal ramifications.)

  2. Training: Partner with professionals who have specific training in domestic violence to educate employees and managers. (This builds a culture within the workplace in which the topics is no longer taboo and removes excuses not to address it.)

  3. Partnership: Partner with a local domestic violence organization to promote avenues of communication.

  4. Policy: Established a domestic violence policy as part of your violence prevention program. (Cultural integration and buy-in at the highest organizational level is paramount.)

  5. Team Approach: Human Resources should not be the only one holding the torch here. (Your team should include medical, mental health, HR, legal, security, public relations, EAP, community outreach and unions if applicable.)

  6. Continuously review potential security threats such as areas that can allow for potential monitoring of the victim by perpetrators and access of the site by non-employees.

Warning Signs:

  1. Look for employee’s partners who regularly visit work and causes disruption.

  2. Receives numerous phone calls and text messaging throughout the day (this is a form of monitoring, and controlling behavior than can be an early warning sign).

  3. Issues with absenteeism. They arrived late or leave early without warning and is uncharacteristic.

  4. Avoid socialization inside and outside of work. Become isolated.

  5. Emotional Distress: May appear anxious when the phone rings or avoids repeated phone calls with dread. Seems fearful, jumpy, anxious and/or depressed.

  6. Frequent bruising that is inconsistent with the mechanism of injury provided. Minimizes injuries.

  7. Disclosure of relationship disillusionment that is not mutual or is problematic.

  8. Poor sleep hygiene. Falls asleep at work.

  9. Unusual gifts sent to the workplace without reason and maybe disproportionate or overdone.

  10. Unsuitable attire: Wears clothing or makeup to hide bruises. (May have chronic pain, & headaches.)

Mostly Male Working Environments: (The invisible abuser. Keep in mind Intimate Partner violence does not discriminate. This person can be a productive employee, administrator, professional who does not reveal overt aggression or violence in the workplace.)

  1. Employee is constantly calling and texting their partner while at work.

  2. Engages in Intimate Partner Violence Surveillance: Use of covert applications and devices to track location, and monitor communications. A majority of these aps are “dual-use” apps, have legitimate purpose, but are repurposed for spying on a partner (Chatterjee, R. et al, 2018). This is often disclosed to a third party or another coworker.

  3. Reports of workers having inappropriate communication through social media with other employees romantic partners. (Triangle relationships).

  4. Absenteeism due to conflicts at home. (Substance abuse is a correlation.)

  5. Bullying or displaying signs of abusive and controlling temperament at work.

  6. Victim blaming, especially their partner. (e.g. low levels of empathy and high levels of jealousy.)

  7. History of aggression/violence towards others (especially current or former partner) and high levels of partner dependency.

  8. Is overly defensive and challenging of authority. Does not take criticism well.

  9. Is grandiose and feels superior to others, especially in the home.

  10. Controls their partner’s or ex-partner’s activities with sense entitlement of that control; known as proprietariness. Risk can be elevated with accusations of infidelity.

Common Risk Factors with Potential for Lethal Violence in Relationships:

  1. Current/recent separation and disillusionment of relationship, and having lived together.

  2. In non-lethal and lethal cases having a child from a previous relationship is a significant risk factor.

  3. Ending the relationship for a new sexual partner are significant risk factors in lethal assault (Campbell, J. C., Webster, D., & Koziol-McLain, J., 2003).

  4. Access to firearms increases the likelihood of use during an IPV incident.

  5. Issuance of a restraining order or new court proceedings like child custody and financial hearings are likely triggers for aggression and violence. (When considering workplace violence restraining orders a threat assessment team should be implemented.)


  • Statements are based on professional knowledge, training and experience in accordance with appropriate research and practice.

  • Statements do not establish a professional or clinical relationship.

  • Consult with a multi-disciplinary team of threat assessment and management professionals that are specifically trained in this are and call before you need us!


Bandow D, Hunter D (2007) The Rise of Workplace Incivilities: Has it happened to you? The Business Review (7)1, 212-217.

Bureau of Labor Statistics (2017). News Release: National Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries 2016. U.S. Department of Labor. USDL-17-1667

Campbell, J. C., Webster, D., & Koziol-McLain, J. (2003). Risk factor for femicide in abusive relationships: Result from a multisite case control study. American Journal of Public Health, 93. 1089-1097.

Center for Disease Control and Prevention (2003). Costs of intimate partner violence against women in the United States. National Center for Injury Prevention and Control. Atlanta, Georgia. Retrieved from

Chatterjee, R., Doerfler, P., Orgad, H., Harvon, S., Palmer, J., Freed, D., Levy, K., … Ristepart, T. (2018). The spyware used in intimate partner violence. 2018 IEEE Symposium on Security and Privay, Security and Privacy, 441. doi:10.1109/SP.2018.00061

Fry, H. & Tchekmedyian, A. (2018, September 11). Love triangle could be motive in Bakersfield shooting, witness says. Los Angelas Times. Retrieved from

Larsen, K. (n.d.). Workplace Violence: Paranoid or Prepared? Retrieved from

Yowan Yang v. ActioNet, Inc., 2:14-cv-00792-AB-PJW. (USDC – Central Division, 2016)

About the Author:

Kenneth Carr, Ph. D., M.A.O.B.

Dr. Carr is a principal consultant for Alvarez Associates, LLC and an Adjunct Professor of Clinical and Forensic Psychology at Northcentral University.

Dr. Carr is a professional educator and trainer who is considered a subject matter expert in Clinical Psychology, Forensic Psychology and Administration of Justice. His specialties are in Domestic and Intimate Partner Violence, Crisis Intervention Training and Behavioral Threat Assessment. He has additional education and training in Organizational Behavior and has instructed Essentials of Security courses with a focus on security measures to reduce risk through management and asset protection.

Dr. Carr holds a Doctor of Philosophy degree in Clinical-Forensic Psychology, a Master’s of Arts degrees in both Clinical-Forensic Psychology and Organizational Behavior, a Bachelor of Arts degree in Psychology with a minor in Criminology and three Associate’s of Arts Degrees in Criminal Justice, Liberal Studies and General Studies. As an intern and practicum student, Dr. Carr gained additional experience in psychometric forensic evaluations working with adults and juveniles who were on probation and/or incarcerated. Dr. Carr is certified as a Level II Academy Instructor through the California Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training where he instructs on Mental Health disorders in crisis intervention techniques. He is certified by the National Council for Behavioral Health as a Mental Health First Aid Trainer.

Dr. Carr has also worked in outpatient and inpatient clinical settings as a Staff Psychologist and Senior Psychologist Specialist for the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. In addition to working on general population sensitive needs yards, Dr. Carr has worked in an Administrative Segregation Unit and in a Mental Health Crisis Bed where he conducted threat assessments and crisis intervention management for patients with severe and debilitating mental health disorders.

Finally, as a Deputy Sheriff-Coroner, Contract Police Officer and Campus Security Officer for almost a decade, Dr. Carr has worked as a Domestic Violence Investigator, Field Training Officer and Reserve Officer Coordinator. In these positions he regularly conducted threat assessments, made security recommendations to the public and assisted in the successful investigation, preparation and prosecution of criminal cases.

Company Info: Alvarez Associates LLC, 916 - 293-8852

Contact Information: Kenneth Carr, Ph. D., M.A.O.B., Ken Carr PhD MAOB @ LinkedIn

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