Life at Work

Office Awareness Can Head Off Abuse at Home

By Amy Joyce
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, May 6, 2007

Melissa began to take sick days from her job at State Farm several years ago because of her abusive husband. There were "a lot of late nights where I had gotten beat up and didn't want to go in front of everybody at work," she said. "I tried to leave a couple times at the beginning, but I had no family around here and not many friends. I didn't have resources, so I felt trapped."

Then one day, her manager pulled her aside, saying she seemed inattentive and absent a lot. She broke down and told him about her situation. Later that day, her manager had a list of places she could call to report the incidents and get help.

Of the 1.7 million incidents of workplace violence in the United States every year, 18,700 are related to domestic violence, the Justice Department said. The victims in the majority of cases are women and the abusers current or former boyfriends or husbands.

Few companies have formal programs to help victims of domestic violence, although more are seeking information on how to create them, said Kim Wells, executive director of the Corporate Alliance to End Partner Violence.

These kinds of programs can help support employees. Further, companies can be held liable for not responding to domestic violence properly, said Stacy Dougan, an Atlanta lawyer who advises companies on domestic violence policies.

"Just like anyone, your life doesn't stop at the door when you come to work," Wells said. "Just like if you're ill or have a child care issue that comes with you to work, domestic violence comes with you to work."

Liz Claiborne, Kaiser Permanente, State Farm Insurance and Verizon Wireless are among the companies that have instituted domestic violence policies. They have helped women (and men) find refuge in hotels, relocate to different offices and get restraining orders.

A major component is education.

In a company-wide survey last year, Liz Claiborne found that 23 percent of its employees had been victims of domestic violence.

The company has a poster in every bathroom with numbers for a national domestic abuse hotline and the company's Employee Assistance Program. Employees get wallet cards with the signs of domestic abuse and receive e-mails and quizzes about those signs.

Verizon Wireless has held voluntary sessions for employees on signs of domestic abuse. It recently partnered with the Virginia attorney general to roll out a poster campaign with signs of verbal, physical and emotional violence. The posters will go out to businesses throughout the region, including Verizon Wireless stores and workplaces.

Companies that include domestic violence prevention and protection in their policies believe they have saved both lives and money. "The same way companies deal with alcoholism and drug abuse, there is no reason they shouldn't be willing to take this on as well," said Jane Randel, who spearheaded Liz Claiborne's domestic violence program. "It impacts absenteeism, drives up health-care costs, impacts productivity."

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