While domestic violence is often considered a dark yet privatematter, the truth is that it has the potential to become a seriousworkplace issue. Domestic violence follows victims to theworkplace, and the effects are devastating to the victim, theircoworkers, and the company's bottom line.

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Related: 10 worst states for women

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Organizations may employ victims of domestic violence orperpetrators, both of which could lead to lost productivity, legalconcerns, other costs, and the potential for an incident in theworkplace. However, by implementing prevention and interventionstrategies and creating an action plan, brokers and leaders withinthe organization can help businesses safeguard their employeeswhile minimizing their liability and risk.

The spillover effect

No business is immune to the spillover of domestic violence intothe workplace. While domestic violence impacts people of all ages,races and backgrounds, it does affect women more often than men.Overall, 1 in 4 women in the U.S. will be abused by an intimatepartner during her lifetime. Among employed adults (men and women),the number is 1 in 5. Alarmingly, the leading cause of death forwomen at work is homicide.

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More than half of the victims surveyed say that their ability towork is affected by domestic violence; an astonishing 75 percentreport some form of harassment from their abusers while they are atwork. Further, a Harvard University School of Public Health studyfound that 71 percent of all HR and security personnel reported anincident of domestic violence had occurred on company property.

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There is no one root cause of domestic violence; it can stemfrom a combination of individual, societal, and situationalfactors. Violence and abuse can be learned behaviors originatingfrom family or community, while other contributing factors caninclude fragmentation of family structure, easy access to weaponry,TV and other media, an unstable economy, substance abuse, andothers.

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Within the workplace, violence may be triggered by layoffs ordownsizing, insensitive terminations, rigid management styles, lackof individual responsibility where the employee does not feel heardor understood, or office romances, among others. All of thesefactors can lead to stress, which raises the probability ofviolence occurring.

Not a personal issue, but a personnelissue

Whether it's a physical injury, a threatening phone call,stalking in the parking lot, missed work due to abuse at home,stress, or distraction, intimate partner violence can result inhigh absenteeism and turnover, lost wages, a heightened risk ofviolence to coworkers, and lost productivity. The price foreveryone is steep.

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Related: How employers can express concerns withuotviolating confidentiality

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Costs associated with domestic violence can include:

  • Lost productivity. In terms of lostproductivity alone, businesses pay $729 million each year relatedto domestic violence, according to the Centers for Disease Controland Prevention (CDC). And nearly 60 percent of employeesexperiencing domestic violence reported losing their job as aresult, either because they were fired or had to quit.

  • Health care costs. Health care costs are alsohigher for domestic violence victims, and employers often pay theprice. Victims frequently require medical attention and support asa result of abuse, leading to combined medical and mentalhealthcare costs of more than $4 billion a year.

  • Legal and liability issues. Domestic violencecan also expose a company to legal liability, which can carry ahefty price tag, potentially driving employers' costs upfurther.

And domestic violence affects both victims and their coworkers.According to a survey conducted by the Corporate Alliance to EndPartner Violence, 44 percent of those who worked with a victim ofdomestic violence reported personally experiencing the effects inthe workplace, including concern for their own safety.

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Yet, despite the alarming numbers and a growing concern thatrisk factors such as economic insecurity and job loss couldincrease threats, the majority of workplaces do not have a programto address domestic violence.

Addressing the problem

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It may be surprising, but the U.S. Bureau of Labor reports thatonly 30 percent of organizations have a workplace violence policy,and only 44 percent of those specifically address domesticviolence. While employers are often aware of issues within theirorganization, they may be reluctant to take action due touncertainty about their role, among other reasons. However,organizations and their partners have the potential to help preventissues and support their employees, so it is critical to put a planin place to address this issue.

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Related: C-suite remains male-dominated

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By collaborating with employees, management, and other externalresources, companies can create and put a comprehensive plan intoaction that addresses prevention, intervention and response. Keycomponents of this program include:

  • Initial assessment – Before creating a policy,work with management to analyze past incidents, assess thepotential for issues and assess preparedness. This will ensure theplan is tailored to the organization's unique needs.

  • Multidisciplinary policy – Based on the resultsof the assessment, this should include how the organization willsupport victims, including providing security measures, anddisciplinary procedures for perpetrators.

  • Robust training plan – In order for the policyto be effective, it is important to raise awareness of the issueand educate both managers and employees on how to identifypotential situations and respond appropriately.

  • Communicate, communicate, communicate – Get themessage out to the workforce through a variety of channels,including newsletters, posters in break rooms or restrooms, theintranet and more. This can include information about the company'sprogram as well as how to access available resources.

Organizations should also understand what resources areavailable to them and form relationships with groups who canprovide a range of support when needed, including an EmployeeAssistance Program, local domestic violence centers or shelters,and law enforcement personnel.

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Domestic violence is a serious issue both in and out of theworkplace, but with careful planning and preparation, organizationsand their partners can address this important subject and enhancethe health and safety of their workforce, reduce the impact onproductivity and profitability, and prevent liability.

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Domestic violence isn't just a personal issue — itfollows victims to the workplace, leading to devastating effects.Putting an action and response plan in place can help safeguardboth employees and organizations.

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Five reasons organizations need a domestic violence plan:

  1. Protect victims – One in five employed adults report being thevictim of intimate partner violence. More than half say theirability to work is affected by domestic violence, and anastonishing 75 percent report experiencing harassment from theirabusers while at work.

  2. Protect the workforce – Coworkers of victims report personallyexperiencing the effects of domestic violence in the workplace,including feeling concerned about their own safety at work.

  3. Minimize risk and liability – Domestic violence can expose acompany to legal liability, including lawsuits and workers'compensation, especially if there is no plan in place toappropriately respond to issues that may arise.

  4. Prevent increased health care costs – Victims of domestic abuserequire frequent medical attention, which can drive up medical andmental healthcare costs for employers.

  5. Avoid turnover and lost productivity – Domestic violence impactsvictims' ability to stay engaged at work, leading to lostproductivity and even job loss, totaling $729 million a year incosts to businesses.

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