If an employee experiences trauma outside of the workplace, what are HR’s legal obligations and responsibilities?
If an employee suffers a traumatic experience outside of the workplace, HR has a duty of care to look after that individual in certain situations, said Bree Knoester, managing partner of the personal injury division of Holding Redlich
In an interview with HC, Knoester said that once an employer learns about an employee’s traumatic experience, there is an obligation to look after that individual.
“I don’t think an employer is obligated to know the intimate details of what employees do outside of the workplace,” she said. “But where they do have knowledge, this really evokes a responsibility to take reasonable steps for that employee.”
This is a three step responsibility: check in, follow up and referral, Knoester said.
“Step one is checking in with the employee to acknowledge that you’re aware that they’ve been exposed.”
This on its own isn’t enough however and employers should hold several follow up sessions afterwards to see how the employee is going.
“If you get a sense your employee is still having some difficulty coping then it is really important you have professionals who you can refer the employee to.”
Checking in with potentially traumatised staff requires a gentle approach, Knoester said.
“What I recommend is that peers check in with peers. Sometimes people may not feel as comfortable telling their superior or boss about an uncomfortable or traumatic experience.”
HR can also make sure the workforce is trauma-aware so staff understand how to check in with employees who may have been exposed to traumatic experiences.
“Within our work, we talk about having peer support programs. This means the responsibility doesn’t always rest with the senior people in an organisation but that everyone appreciates that there’s an obligation to check in with each other.”
This can be done very informally over coffee or by an email or text just asking whether the other person is ok, she added.
Finally, senior managers in the workplace can normalise issues such as trauma by sharing their own experiences with these situations.
“If we see our senior managers, openly talking about their experiences and how they dealt with it, that can have a very positive and influential effect on a workplace.”