Opinion: Time to address domestic violence in workplace policies

Truth Be Told

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As important as stay-at-home orders and working from home were for health officials to curb the spread of COVID-19, it wasn’t without consequence. One dire impact was trapping victims of domestic violence at home with their abusers.

While advocates and hotlines braced for an influx of calls, many organizations saw the opposite. The New England Journal of Medicine reported calls in some regions dropped by 50%. It’s not that the problem went away, but the opportunities to reach out for help were diminished in isolation.

Before the pandemic, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated 1 in 4 women and 1 in 10 men experienced sexual violence, physical violence and/or stalking by a partner in their lifetime.

This widespread community issue should not only move us to support nonprofits centered on domestic violence, but also it should serve as a rallying cry for businesses. With the frequency of intimate partner violence, it’s probable you have an employee who is impacted. Your business is likely not just a workplace, but a safe haven in seeking help.

Kim Wells, executive director of the national Corporate Alliance to End Partner Violence, has said: “Domestic violence and sexual assault walk in the doors of each and every workplace every day. Domestic violence robs our employees of their dignity and their health, and these issues hide in darkness until we bring them into the light.”

2020 will be known for a global health pandemic, but it also will be known for a handful of secondary pandemics, including intimate partner violence. Mental health experts also warned of an anxiety pandemic. And the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor ignited what others called a racism pandemic.

But out of these challenges are sprouting positive changes in our workplaces. Sick leave policies are favoring wellness over toughing it out. An acute awareness of how mental health impacts us all is causing employers to elevate empathy and self-care. And calls for racial justice are causing businesses to look at their own practices for how they can create a more equitable environment. At this time of reflection, it would be wise to create a formal domestic violence prevention policy. Research conducted by the Society for Human Resource Management found only 35% of employers have such a plan in place.

As I outlined in an October 2019 column on domestic violence awareness month, this is most certainly a business issue. Not only because it impacts businesses’ most valuable assets – people – but also the SHRM estimates domestic violence costs the U.S. economy $8.3 billion a year. That factors in health care costs, missed days of work, lack of productivity and even the deaths of employees. For survivors of domestic violence, SHRM found 60% report losing their jobs and 96% say their work performance suffered as a consequence of the abuse.

Here’s a guide from the Corporate Alliance to End Partner Violence on creating your policy:

Organize a team. It is important that this includes representatives from all departments of the company, with buy-in from leadership.

Develop a compliant policy. Companies should work directly with their legal departments to develop policies and programs, using the latest information on legislation regarding intimate partner violence, leave for victims of domestic violence, nondiscrimination laws and workplace restraining orders.

Provide training. Employers should train supervisors to recognize and respond to signs of domestic violence. Training should include issues of privacy. The employer can start by engaging and publicizing the services of an employee assistance program or the local domestic violence support agency. Acknowledge this is a personal topic, but don’t be afraid to discuss it.

Build awareness. Employers can incorporate information about awareness of domestic violence into employee orientation programs, seminars and newsletters. Employees should know they won’t be penalized for seeking help.

And I’ll add a final step for your policy. Support organizations like Harmony House and The Rebound Foundation through company-sponsored volunteering and donations.

A great time to start is Oct. 30, Harmony House’s 2020 iCare Day. The nonprofit is asking businesses to do something to help end this epidemic, from raising funds to using their platform to bring awareness of the issue. The iCare symbol, which you likely recognize, is a black eye patch.

The secret is out on the impact of domestic violence on our community. How will you get involved?

Springfield Business Journal Features Editor Christine Temple can be reached at ctemple@sbj.net.