Increase Safety for Your Nonprofit’s Team

Taking action to protect your employees’ safety represents a tangible way that you can contribute to a community of acceptance, safety, and support where violence is not tolerated.

Increase Safety for Your Nonprofit’s Team
19 mins read

Six Actions to Increase Employee Safety

The focus on serving and uplifting our communities is something we all likely share in our work at nonprofit organizations. Because this focus can be so consuming, however, it can be easy to overlook how the employees within our agencies may be actively experiencing harm in their own lives. We are all human beings, and as such, may find ourselves in situations where our safety and security are at risk. We may even be experiencing the very things that our work is seeking to remedy. Creating a safer1 workplace for employees — who might be experiencing the effects of sexual, dating, or domestic violence as well as stalking and harassment, for example — is crucial to the sustainability of our workforce. It is also simply the right thing to do as a compassionate leader.

Isn’t This a Personal Issue?

Some leaders may think that intimate partner violence is a personal issue and not one to deal with in the workplace. But research and experience tell us a very different story.

In the United States, about one in four people experience contact sexual violence, physical violence, and/or stalking by an intimate partner; many report that this experience has significant impacts on their ability to perform their jobs well. Most stalking victims report that they have been stalked at their place of work, and domestic violence alone (not including sexual assault) has cost U.S. adults to lose more than 741 million days of work.2 Even if we pick the state with a low cost of living, like Mississippi, and estimate a daily living wage,3 this means domestic violence costs our country’s workforce and employers $91 billion due to victim health impacts and lost productivity. Further, two-thirds of mass shootings (including those that occur at businesses and workplaces) have been linked to domestic violence.

When we proactively address intimate partner safety issues in our workplaces from a trauma-informed and survivor-centered approach, we make our workplaces safer for everyone while also improving productivity and workplace morale. In fact, we can even help play a role in preventing intimate partner violence, as economic security and stability represent a key protective factor in preventing domestic and sexual violence from recurring.

6 Actions to Increase Employee Safety

To be clear, every workplace should have a foundational policy and set of best practices to support employees experiencing intimate partner violence, sexual violence, or stalking. The simple act of having these policies sends a message that, as a nonprofit leader, you care about each person’s well-being. These policies also signal your readiness to problem-solve and provide appropriate workplace support if this presents an issue for anyone on your staff. Also, taking action — via some or all of the ways listed below — represents a tangible way that you can contribute to a community of acceptance, safety, and support where violence is not tolerated.

As leaders, we are responsible for creating safer workplace cultures for everyone. Here are 6 actions you can take to increase safety for your employees and workspaces.

Does your organization have a specific policy outlining what an employee’s options are if they are experiencing interpersonal violence or harassment? Beyond the standard corporate sexual harassment policies, it is important to have a clear policy stating that employees will not be held responsible for harm perpetrated towards them by others if it impacts the workplace. This is a key mitigating factor to reduce the risk of your staff being targeted or harmed while at work and increases safety for all employees at your organization.

Such a policy should include clear statements that let all staff know they are able to share these experiences with their supervisors without retaliation. There must also be an open policy in place to discuss how management can make accommodations to support individual safety in the workplace. Safety accommodations can take many forms and should be carried out only with the clear consent of the employee. A model policy, like this one, can be adapted to your own workplace.

Examples of Safety Accommodations

RedactionsWhat to do: Protect the employee’s privacy by removing their name and contact information from external websites or documents.  

Why it works: This reduces the risk that an employee’s workplace can be identified and tracked down by an unsafe person engaging in stalking behaviors.
Alternate Working HoursWhat to do: Change an employee’s work hours or permit remote work if commuting has been an unsafe experience for the employee.  

Why it works: Changing known routines can reduce the risk of someone being followed or tracked.
DocumentationWhat to do: Keep a copy of any protective order or description of unsafe people on hand in case said person shows up at the workplace.  

Why it works: If the unsafe person named in the protective order shows up to the workplace, having a copy of the order on hand is crucial in receiving an appropriate police response.
Location ChangeWhat to do: Change the location of the employee’s desk or office so as to be away from public doors, windows, or other lines of sight.  

Why it works: This is another great way to reduce the risk of a victim’s location being discovered by someone engaging in stalking or intimidation tactics.
EscortsWhat to do: Walk the employee to/from their vehicle, bus stop, or other method of transportation when coming and going from the workspace.  

Why it works: “Safety in numbers” is a tried-and-true method of harm reduction when it is known someone may be at risk of assault by an unsafe person.  
IntermediariesWhat to do: Have phone calls to the employee’s work number routed through another staff person or sent to voicemail for screening.  

Why it works: People engaging in abusive tactics often use intimidation and harassment via phone, text, or email as a way to hold power and create fear.  

Action 2: Make sure your leave policies are inclusive of leave for interpersonal violence.

Experiencing interpersonal violence in any form is traumatic — and we should account for this in our leave policies. Employees who experience violence or harassment may find themselves attending to a variety of new needs: legal appointments, medical visits, counseling services, changes in childcare needs and schedules, and so on. Ensuring adequate paid or flexed time off for these events is crucial to facilitate both safety and healing.

But it is not enough to offer flexibility in terms of time off. You need to also communicate these policies to your staff. In your leave policies, clearly state that time off may be used for these circumstances, so employees do not have to disclose traumatic information in order to know what leave is available to them. Be explicit that sick time may be used for physical and mental healthcare needs and does not require justification.

Remember, each time a victim of violence or abuse recounts their story, they are likely to be re-living the trauma they experienced. Doing so can not only trigger fight, flight, or freeze responses, but can also trigger illness, excessive stress, and feelings of shame, embarrassment, anger, and more — none of which is conducive to the employee’s best interest as a person or a professional.4 A survivor’s story of violence is their own to share when they choose to, and they should not be pressured to.

Before prompting for details, ask yourself: How will asking this question help us make the survivor and our workplace safer? If you can’t come up with a good answer, it is probably best not to ask.

You should also take the time to avail yourself of the paid leave resources offered by your governments. For example, more and more state and local governments are beginning to understand the necessity of paid leave programs for personal and health-related reasons. Many states also offer explicit job protections for people experiencing interpersonal violence. Paid leave programs may be available in your state to offer compensated time off for legal, medical, and other relevant appointments.

This information should be freely shared and available at the time of hire as well as throughout employment. If you aren’t sure what is available in your state, your Bureau of Labor and Industries (BOLI) office should be able to assist you. Again, make sure this information is widely accessible and well-known to your staff. The more people are aware of it, the more likely it is that people who need to will be able to access it — perhaps even without your intervention!

Action 3: Know your local resources — keep this information available and visible to employees.

Nonprofit sexual and domestic violence advocacy organizations are all around us: likely, there is one (or more!) in your community. Know who they are. Ask for informational materials or signs that you can keep available in an employee resource packet, posted in a breakroom, and otherwise embedded into your work environment. As previously mentioned, many people experiencing these forms of harm are concerned about how disclosing such violence will be received by their supervisors and coworkers. Help set a tone that your workplace understands violence can happen to anyone and that you want to support employees who are impacted.

Similarly, your state, county, and even city probably offer supports and resources as well. This information — including the paid leave resources mentioned in Action 2 — should not be gatekept “until the time comes” but freely and proactively shared. Knowledge is power!

Action 4: Conduct a general safety assessment of your brick-and-mortar workspaces.

This is best practice for any physical office space — for both safety and access-related reasons. That is, conducting a general assessment can provide value in multiple ways. For example, it can prompt you to consider how someone with a disability might experience your space and let you point out physical barriers or issues that should be addressed to improve access for people with mobility equipment, low vision, or blindness, and more. It can also make any employee feel safer when on the job, ensuring they know where hazards might be and what options there are if they are working late or alone as well as if they feel unsafe because of past or present experiences.

Take a tour of your space. Consider taking a friend or colleague from another organization with you for fresh eyes. Look at the perimeter of your space for the following:

  • Hiding places: Are there large bushes or places where people could hide to wait for someone come out?
  • Lighting: Do you have adequate lighting in your parking lot and entrances?
  • Points of egress and ingress: Is there more than one way to exit the building if needed?
  • Isolation: Are people ever working in the building alone, and if so, is that necessary? While having a buddy system (or similar) does not prevent someone from attempting violence or harm, it does make it harder for them to do so. They may be less likely to commit a harmful action if the person they are targeting is not alone or, most often the case, there are others around and they are more likely to get caught committing that harmful action.

Action 5: Make updating personnel information routinely accessible.

Employees may have any number of reasons to update personal information — such as direct deposit accounts and emergency contacts — like changing banking institutions or cell phone plans, for examples. But if these changes are necessary due to interpersonal violence or harassment, they can carry extra mental and emotional weight; this extra weight might risk further traumatizing or overburdening the individual. All of the things they have to do can feel overwhelming — even making them feel like their world is coming down around them.

Instead, make these types of updates as routine and seamless as possible so that an employee doesn’t feel they have to go out of their way and potentially encounter personal questions about what has prompted the change. It can be helpful to have an annual practice of requiring all employees to verify their current contact information and emergency contacts, for instance — I have found doing this during healthcare open enrollment makes sense. A natural prompter helps you to ensure you have the most up-to-date and helpful information, but it also gives employees a natural opportunity to discreetly make changes.

Action 6: ALWAYS let the employee lead the way.

For anyone who is a victim and/or survivor of interpersonal violence, having control over what happens as a result is crucial. They are their own experts: they will know what is best for themselves, for their safety, and for their experience as an employee. Ask them, and listen well.

Also, let them know they are in the lead and that you want to co-create a safer workplace with them, based on what they want and feel comfortable with. Let them share what they are comfortable with and do not push for details they are not ready to share.

An employer should NEVER dictate what a survivor of violence should do or not do — such an approach can make things more dangerous. For instance, an employer should never require a victim of violence to obtain a restraining order. In fact, data shows that actions of separation, including leaving an abusive partner or obtaining a restraining order, most often escalate attempts at harm by a person using abuse in their relationship.

Survivors know their partner and their circumstances best. They will have the best estimation of how someone will respond to a restraining order (or other actions) and should have control over those decisions. Without safety mechanisms and plans in place, taking such an action may only increase risk of harm. Survivors truly are the experts of their own experience.

Safer Means Sustainable

These days, there is a lot of focus on sustainability in the nonprofit sector. Promoting the safety and well-being of our employees is a necessary part of that conversation.

We know that employee retention has positive impacts on our work, including reducing costs related to staff hiring and training, maintaining team morale, and building a future generation of leaders. A 2018 national survey of domestic violence survivors found that 83% of respondents indicated that their abusive partners disrupted their ability to work. Further, qualitative interviews with survivors of sexual assault showed that 36% of them experienced depression, anxiety, and posttraumatic stress disorder that interfered with their ability to work effectively.

We often think about supporting our employees through illness and family caregiving responsibilities as important to employee retention, organizational sustainability, and creating a more effective, positive workplace overall. Considering how to support the quarter of adults who are impacted by violence and abuse should also be a fundamental consideration.

And, if you are an organization who wants to contribute to safer communities where our neighbors can thrive, this is a very tangible way that you can play a role in preventing additional harm by promoting connection, resilience, and supportive networks of community. Together, we must work to make our organizations and our communities safer for all.


  1. I intentionally use the word, safer — as opposed to safe — as it is never 100% in our control to prevent harm from reaching our workplaces. However, we can absolutely decrease risk and increase mitigating factors in order to lessen harm directed at ourselves, our staff, and our workspaces. This is an ongoing process, not an end goal. ↩︎
  2. These statistics come from Facts on Gender-Based Workplace Violence, a report issued by Workplaces Respond. This national resource center offers videos, guides, and even a model workplace policy. To be clear, I am not affiliated with this center, but I have worked in the anti-sexual and domestic violence field for 18+ years. I highly recommend the resources at this site as a great starting place for employers looking to create safer workplaces. ↩︎
  3. The concept of what constitutes a living wage comes from MIT’s Living Wage Calculator, which also compares state minimum wage and poverty wages. Here, I am estimating a single adult without children. $15.42/hour x 8 working hours = $123.36 lost wages/day. Multiply that by 741 million lost days of work and you get around $91,409,760,000. Likely, the cost of domestic violence is much higher. ↩︎
  4. For more on the importance of a trauma-informed culture in nonprofit work, check out this article! ↩︎

About the Author

Executive Director at | More Posts

Shannon Rose (she/her) is the Executive Director of the Oregon Attorney General's Sexual Assault Task Force (SATF). She has been working with and advocating alongside survivors of violence and trauma since 2005. Her early career experiences in nonprofits as a direct service advocate, crisis program coordinator, and shelter manager cemented an understanding that we cannot prevent violence and abuse or create systems that provide healing and justice without survivor voices and expertise at the center of our work.

In addition to nonprofit experience, Shannon spent nearly 12 years in county and state government, specializing in sexual and domestic violence education, public policy, and program development. During her time in the public sector, Shannon built bridges across service systems by developing programs and partnerships at the intersections of sexual and domestic violence with disability, aging, veterans' needs, substance use treatment centers, immigrant and refugee supports, and other service systems.

Shannon holds a B.A. in Human Communication and a M.S. in Human Services/Counseling Studies. She also has advanced education in trauma-informed services, project management, and addictions counseling but considers herself a curious and eager lifelong learner.

Articles on Blue Avocado do not provide legal representation or legal advice and should not be used as a substitute for advice or legal counsel. Blue Avocado provides space for the nonprofit sector to express new ideas. Views represented in Blue Avocado do not necessarily express the opinion of the publication or its publisher.

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