Commentary: Domestic violence is not only a tragedy for families but a costly burden for employers

October 16, 2011

In my early days, I was a caseworker and counseled clients who needed protection from domestic violence. Like me, 74 percent of Americans know someone who is or has been a victim of domestic abuse. Studies now suggest that one in three women and one in 14 men will be victims of domestic violence in their lifetime. For many families — like the children and women I counseled two decades ago in New Jersey — abuse is an ever-prevalent threat. Something must change.

The down economy often exacerbates domestic violence, and employers must get involved to ensure that their workers who are abused are not victimized twice and forced to leave their jobs.

Thirty-seven percent of women who experienced domestic violence reported that the abuse had an impact on their work in the form of lateness, missed work, promotions or simply keeping a job. Sixty percent of female victims of abuse will give up their jobs and face suspension and termination as a direct or indirect result of domestic violence. The annual national cost of lost productivity from domestic violence is $727.8 million, with more than 7.9 million paid workdays lost each year, according to a 2003 report by the Department of Health and Human Services’ National Center for Injury Prevention and Control.

As employers, we cannot ignore the spillover effect that domestic violence has on our work environments. But we can create workplaces where an open dialogue about domestic violence can exist in hopes of reducing and preventing abuse and improving the lives of our workers.

While abuse affects all socioeconomic levels, it is true that economic distress can intensify and increase the likelihood that violence will occur. A 2004 report called “When Violence Hits Home: How Economics and Neighborhood Play a Role” found that being underemployed or not making enough money to meet family needs and worrying about finances increase the risk of intimate violence against women.

According to the Workplaces Respond to Domestic and Sexual Violence project, more than 70 percent of workplaces around the nation lack a formal workplace violence program or policy.

State workforce agencies have begun to discuss domestic violence involving clients. For example, Maryland’s employee-focused workshops held preceding large-scale layoffs or anticipated closings address domestic violence alongside such topics as unemployment insurance and resume writing.

But a concerted effort to identify domestic violence among employees is needed in the public and private sector. To start or improve your current domestic violence awareness program, consider:

Establishing a domestic violence workplace policy. A Model Workplace Policy is available on the Workplaces Respond to Domestic and Sexual Violence project Web site at
www.workplacesrespond.org
.

Training HR staff and supervisors to recognize signs of abuse and provide victim support. Contact a reputable provider to ensure adequate training or reach out to your local domestic violence center for advice.

Posting resources for victims of domestic violence online and in your workplace. Make the information available online (via your company intranet or Web site) and in common public areas, such as break rooms, restrooms and locker rooms as well as your HR offices.

Providing information regarding your company’s Employee Assistance Program as well as contact information for local hospitals, domestic violence centers, women’s shelters and police stations in all of your domestic violence communications.

Reaching out to your local domestic violence centers to provide assistance. Work with local civic organizations to organize food drives, clothing collections or holiday gift purchases, or designate a “Day of Service” in which you and your employees may volunteer at a shelter or center.

For employers, increasing awareness of domestic violence in the workplace can be a positive first step in the eradication of abusive behaviors.

Andy Moser is president and chief executive of the Maryland Workforce Corp., a public-private partnership involved in workplace issues and job training.

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