Trauma/PTSD is more common than you think, and it does impact the workplace. This type of trauma occurs when a person either witnesses or experiences a terrifying event.
Examples of events that can be triggers for the onset of PTSD:
- media coverage of the U.S. Presidential Election mud-slinging
- natural disasters
- mass shootings
- domestic violence and/or child abuse
- horrific car accident
- returning from active duty
- watching a death take place
Furthermore, the effects of a traumatic event on an individual may not surface immediately; instead it may be weeks, months or years before symptoms occur.
With this in mind, the likelihood of you, as an employer, having to work with a past or presently traumatized employee is greatly increased.
When I say this, I usually receive some push back from organizations and departments within the organization, like HR, stating they are not obligated to deal with a person’s past traumatic event(s).
However, consider this scenario:
You have an employee who is a survivor of domestic violence. A co-worker in another department is being stalked by her estranged spouse. This includes unplanned visits to the work site, verbal confrontations and physical aggression in the parking lot. A couple of these exchanges have been witnessed by the first employee. They acted like a trigger, and she began to relive the abusive experiences from her past. She starts to have performance problems in the workplace and then requests a leave of absence.
After gathering more information from her, it appears she is eligible for Family and Medical Leave (FMLA) job protection.*
As an employer, you will now be dealing with two traumatized employees – one currently experiencing a traumatic event, and one currently reliving a past traumatic event. I state two employees, because even though the second’s experience was years ago, it can be that is just as terrifying today because it seems as if it is happening all over again as she witnesses it happening to someone else. One or both may be eligible for additional state and federal rights/protection and employee benefits depending on the specifics of their circumstances. In future posts I will discuss eligible circumstances.
Answer these questions to protect your organization and support its finest asset
• How can you support a traumatized employee?
• What is the organization’s obligation?
• What is the organization’s legal exposure?
• How can risk to the organization be minimized?
Unfortunately, trauma in the workplace has become commonplace. As a representative or leader in your workplace, consider what steps you can take to minimize the organization’s exposure to liabilities while also protecting/supporting your most valuable asset – your employees.
*For more information on FMLA and eligibility, visit https://www.dol.gov/general/topic/benefits-leave/fmla