The effects of domestic violenceare not limited to victims; at least 44 percent of those who workwith a victim of domestic violence report feeling personallyimpacted. (Photo: Shutterstock)

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Domestic violence may frequently occur behind closed doors, butthe repercussions of abuse have the potential to spill over intothe workplace. October is Domestic ViolenceAwareness Month, an opportunity to raise awareness of thisimportant and difficult topic. For organizations who may employeither victims or perpetrators, domestic violence can impact the individualsinvolved as well as those around them, leading to a ripple effectof lost productivity, legal concerns, and othercosts, not to mention the risk of an incident occurring atwork.

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Unfortunately, no business is immune to the issue of domesticviolence. According to the most recent National Intimate Partnerand Sexual Violence Survey, approximately a third of women and aquarter of men report being the victim of violence by a partner atsome point in their lives. This means the likelihood of an employeebeing either a victim or perpetrator is higher than many mayrealize.

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Related: The real threat of workplaceviolence

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It is important to note that domestic violence is not limited tophysical abuse. It can include any range of assaultive and coercivebehaviors used by an individual to hurt, dominate or control andintimate a partner or family member, such as stalking, emotional orverbal abuse, financial control and more.

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While this is a difficult subject matter to tackle within theworkplace, taking a proactive approach to domestic violence canhelp organizations simultaneously protect their employees whileminimizing their risk. Brokers and business leaders can worktogether to create an action plan and implement prevention andintervention strategies to address domestic violence within theirworkforce.

The impact on the workplace

Domestic violence impacts people of all ages, races andbackgrounds, including employed adults. Although domestic violenceis not always physical, tragically, 78 percent of women killed inthe workplace between 2003 and 2008 were murdered by their abuser.While alarming, the effects on the workplace begin much sooner, andeveryone pays the toll.

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Consider that each year, domestic violence victims miss abouteight million days of work, the equivalent of 32,000 full-timejobs. Because of this and other factors, the Centers for DiseaseControl and Prevention estimates that businesses lose $729 millioneach year in lost productivity related to domestic violence.Employee turnover is also a contributing factor; up to 60 percentof employees experiencing domestic violence reported losing theirjob as a result, either because they were fired or had to quit.

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In addition to indirect costs, health care costs related todomestic violence can also add up for organizations. Domesticviolence victims frequently require medical attention and supportas a result of abuse, leading to combined medical and mentalhealthcare costs of more than $4 billion a year.

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The effects of domestic violence are not limited to victims; asurvey conducted by the Corporate Alliance to End Partner Violencefound that at least 44 percent of those who worked with a victim ofdomestic violence reported feeling personally impacted, includingconcern for their own safety. This can also have a devastatingeffect on workplace morale.

Recognizing instances of domestic violence

In order to effectively support employees experiencing domesticviolence, it is critical to understand some of the common signsthat may indicate a problem:

  • Unexplained bruises
  • Unusually quiet/withdrawn
  • Frequent absences
  • Lack of concentration
  • Wearing concealing clothing, even in warm weather
  • Depression and/or anxiety
  • Change in performance attitude
  • Frequent breaks or appointments with friends/family
  • Receipt of harassing phone calls

If an employee demonstrates any of these red flags, interveningin a sensitive and private manner can make a difference andencourage them to seek help before the problem escalates. In orderto be most effective, it is beneficial for managers and otheremployees to be prepared to handle this important yet personalmatter. Yet surprisingly, 65 percent of respondents to a surveyfrom the Society for Human Resource Management reported that theirorganization does not have a policy or program in place to preventor address domestic violence.

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It is important for organizations to realize that domesticviolence does not solely happen outside working hours – a surveyfrom the National Safe Workplace Institute found that 94 percent ofcorporate security directors reported domestic violence as a highsecurity issue at their organization. Keep in mind the workplace issomewhere perpetrators know they can locate their victim. Thisincreases risk and liability for businesses, which can also lead toadditional costs, especially without a plan in place to addressthis issue.

A proactive approach

Many organizations may be hesitant to get involved in instancesof domestic abuse or violence. Yet organizations and their partnershave the potential to make a big difference by stepping in earlyand supporting employees, making it critical to have acomprehensive prevention and response plan ready.

  1. Assess current plans (or lackthereof). The first step is to analyze pastincidents, assess the potential for issues and determine currentpreparedness. Taking the time to review this information will helpcreate a plan that meets the organization's unique needs.
  2. Develop comprehensive policy. Based on theresults of the assessment, this should include internal reportingprocedures, support mechanisms for victims, including enhancedsecurity measures, and disciplinary procedures forperpetrators.
  3. Implement company-wide training. In orderfor the policy to be effective, it is important to raise awarenessof the issue and educate both managers and employees on how toidentify potential situations, follow reporting procedures andrespond appropriately. This may also include what to do if anincident happens at work.

Ensure employees are in the know – Get the message out to theworkforce through a variety of channels, including newsletters,posters in break rooms or restrooms, the intranet and more. Thiscan include information about the company's program as well as howto access available resources, such as the Employee Assistance Program (EAP), communityorganizations or even local law enforcement.

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Benefits professionals play an important role in this process byhelping organizations proactively implement the right programs tohelp should the need arise. Waiting until something happens mightbe too late. By raising awareness of this important issue andconnecting businesses with EAPs and other resources, brokers,consultants and others can ensure employers are prepared to addressissues related to domestic violence should they arise, reducingliability while ensuring the safety of the workforce.


Norbert “Bert” Alicea, MA, CEAP, isexecutive vice president of EAP+Work/Life Services at HealthAdvocate. Alicea is a licensed psychologist and premiertrainer with over 29 years of experience in the EAP field. He has aspecialization with executive coaching and management consultationsin assisting with difficult workplace situations and also conductscorporate training locally and on a national level.

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