Maintaining employment while suffering from intimate partner violence (IPV) is extremely difficult given abuser-initiated workplace disruptions. Abusive partners directly disrupt survivors by calling, texting, and showing up to the workplace as well as indirectly disrupt through physiological abuse. The current qualitative study seeks to increase understanding of survivors’ employment instability and gain insight into supportive workplace responses for survivors. A knowledge gap exists specific to understanding women’s experiences of employment instability, workplace disruptions (including with technology), and their perceptions of policy and practices that employers use to support employees experiencing abuse. Social support theory buffering hypothesis was used to conceptualize the study and justify focusing on survivors’ perceptions of support. The study asks four research questions: (a) What are the employment instability experiences of survivors related to IPV including attendance, hours, and job loss? (b) What are survivors’ experiences of workplace disruptions, including with technology? (c) What formal IPV-related employer policies and practices are survivors familiar with? (d) What workplace supports do IPV survivors perceive to be helpful or harmful?
This qualitative study combined the narrative approach and grounded theory. A sample of 19 women receiving services for IPV at a Midwest social services agency from 2017 to 2018 were invited to participate in 45-65 minute individual semi-structured interviews. The narrative approach were used to inform interview guides that captured the unique stories of survivors. All participants received compensation for their time and travel. Interviews were recorded, transcribed, and imported into NVivo 12 Pro for analysis. Two researchers independently coded the data using the traditional steps of constant comparative analysis, as suggested by grounded theory. Several strategies were used to enhance rigor, namely: memoing, iterative and reframing questioning, and reflexivity.
There were three thematic categories and nine themes that emerged. Findings revealed that survivors suffered a range of employment instability forms (e.g., missing hours of work and forced resignation) while experiencing IPV. Further, technology (i.e., computers and cell phones) was used to harass nearly every participant interviewed. Survivors had constructive feedback and practical suggestions for employers based on their experiences managing employment with IPV.
Conclusions and Implications:
Although qualitative researchers have begun to explore survivors’ employment instability, the current study contributes to existing literature by detailing employment instability among women who had children, focusing on “at work” disruptions and highlighting the use of technology to disrupt survivors’ work, and exploring existing policies and procedures that workplaces use to address IPV. Further, through conversations with participants, the current study offers workplace support recommendations directly from survivors that reflect their personal experiences. Future researchers should continue to explore evidence-based interventions as well as workplace supports for survivors. Policymakers at the employment, state, and federal level should mandate supportive workplace procedures so that women and their families can gain financial independence from abusive partners and maintain needed employment.