Maryland's 60,000 state employees will be required to attend seminars examining the impact of domestic violence on workplace productivity under an executive order signed by Gov. Parris N. Glendening (D) that became effective Friday.
The executive order is believed to be the first of its kind among state governments.
All employees will attend one of two 90-minute seminars, created as the result of the executive order, in which counselors will train them to better identify co-workers who may be victims of domestic abuse. The second seminar is designed for supervisors.
The Bureau of National Affairs estimates that employers lose about $5 billion each year because of absenteeism, increased health care costs and lower productivity that can be attributed to domestic abuse. And a private 1992 survey of the occupational impact of domestic violence found that between 25 percent and 35 percent of battered women who responded said they had lost a job in large part because they were the victim of domestic abuse.
About 26,500 of the state's employees are women. The order defines domestic violence as "abusive behavior whereby a person intends to establish and maintain . . . control over a person with whom he or she has, or has had, a significant personal relationship." Under the order, intimidation, any threat to harm and crimes against property are considered forms of domestic violence.
Pilot models of the seminars, developed by the State Department of Human Resources and the Maryland Network Against Domestic Violence, were tested last month at state offices in Garrett and Allegany counties.
During the first 90-minute session, counselors explained what the term domestic abuse encompasses and described the tactics often used by abusers to lock victims into violent relationships.
The second seminar, for office supervisors, used real-life situations to dramatize how managers can identify signs of domestic abuse.
Under the executive order, when an employee facing disciplinary review for poor job performance or improper conduct confides that such behavior is caused by domestic violence, managers are required to refer the employee to the state's Employee Assistance Program.
Employees are urged to call the local police if they are in immediate danger and, if necessary, to take liberal leave and make alternative arrangements to pick up their pay checks or have the earnings placed in a different bank account.
Also, under the executive order, employees who are found to have used work time, state phones or fax machines to commit an act of domestic violence can be fired.
Last week, during a news conference in Annapolis, state officials hailed the executive order as one of the toughest efforts yet to make state offices safer and more supportive of abused workers.
"No employee will be penalized because they're the victim of abuse," said Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend (D), urging private companies to follow the state's lead. Townsend, the state government's highest-ranking female elected official, said that early on in the push for the order, "we knew our biggest obstacle was the misconception that domestic violence is a private problem."
"But this is our business, and there's something we can do about it," she said.
Penni Miller, who has served in the state's Department of Budget Management for much of the last two decades, credited a co-worker who saw the signs of domestic abuse with helping her leave what she said was an abusive marriage.
Miller said that on a drive from their Baltimore office to a meeting in Annapolis, her colleague saw tears in her eyes, and asked simply, "What's happening?"
Miller, 46, of Joppatowne in Harford County, said she told the woman of abuse she had endured from her husband. Miller recalled how she had grown up hearing her mother "plead for mercy" from her abusive father.
She also related the time she said she was with her husband in a car and he had beaten her until several of her ribs cracked and her face was bloodied. He then dragged her out of the car and onto Interstate 95, she said.
"I crawled away," she recalled last week. "I jumped right into the first car that stopped."
In the following weeks, the co-worker served as a liaison between Miller and their supervisor, who also was supportive and allowed her to take time off, she said.