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It might feel uncomfortable—maybe a none-of-our-business invasion of pri­vacy—to try to help an employee who might be a victim of domestic violence. But you could be saving lives if you encourage supervisors and co-workers to do so.

A proactive decision to provide support to domestic-violence victims not only protects them—it also protects companies’ bottom lines.

The U.S. Department of Justice estimates that 1.7 million incidents of workplace violence occur every year, and many of them involve spouses, partners or romantically involved couples who are also co-workers.

Yet less than 30% of U.S. businesses have programs to address the issue, and just 4% teach employees about the impact domestic violence has on the workplace, according to a Bureau of Labor Statistics survey.

Although physical attacks between partners are rare at work, domestic violence spills into businesses in other ways:

  • Health care costs associated with domestic violence run hundreds of millions of dollars a year, and much of that is paid by employers.
  • Unscheduled leave and reduced productivity spurred by domestic violence costs employers up to $5 billion annually.
  • Domestic violence victims are more likely than others to miss work.
  • Co-workers of employees who suffer domestic violence—even when they do not witness the incident—can be distracted and worried about their colleagues.
  • 96% of domestic violence victims report it causes problems for them at work.

Corporate programs that work

Some companies are taking steps to protect their employees from partner violence.

  • Archer Daniels Midland, for instance, gives every employee a brochure containing the employee assistance program’s telephone number, information about the symptoms of abuse and what to do if he or she needs help. Just as important, it tells employees what to do if they suspect a colleague might be in trouble.
  • Partners HealthCare in Boston has a domestic violence contact person within its EAP.
  • After an employee died during a domestic violence incident in 1991, McKee Foods/Arkansas created a cross-functional team to deal with partner violence in the workplace. Its goal: to educate employees about domestic violence, help develop company procedures and create an atmosphere that encourages victims to come forward and ask for help.
  • For years, Verizon Wireless has ­focused its community outreach ­efforts on helping communities fight domestic violence. It walks the talk for its own employees who are vic­tims. HR staffers have helped abused employees arrange for temporary housing and counseling. The company is willing to juggle schedules for those who need to meet with lawyers and doctors during work hours. Verizon Wireless has even transferred female employees to out-of-state locations so they can leave abusive situations but keep their jobs.

Other employers invite lunchtime speakers to educate employees about how to prevent and deal with the problem and train managers so they can help their team members get help.

Best practices you can try

As you look for ways to help em­ployees who may be victims of domestic violence, consider these best practices that have been tested in companies across the nation:

  • Teach all employees how to recognize the signs of domestic violence and what to do if they or their colleagues are victims.
  • Include domestic violence in your general policy banning workplace violence and publish it in your employee handbook. Be specific: Say you will not tolerate violence that spills into the workplace from home or interpersonal relationships. Make it a zero-tolerance policy.
  • Make information accessible. Hang posters and place informative brochures around the office.
  • Consider everyone involved. Em­ployees who are victims of domestic violence need your assistance. Employees who are abusers need referrals, too—to organizations that counsel batterers.
  • Make the workplace safe. Install adequate lighting in parking lots and keep doors locked so only employees have access to the workplace.
  • Encourage employees to volunteer at a local women’s shelter, or donate to domestic violence programs in the community that could help your employees if they ever need it.

Your benefits program can help

Many of the benefits your organization already offers can be especially helpful to an employee caught up in a domestic-violence situation. Examples:

  • Insist that your EAP is ready with immediate referrals to medical treatment, temporary housing, counseling and other support for victims of domestic violence.
  • Be generous with flextime when a victim needs to use work hours to see a doctor, file for a protective order or search for new housing.

Help victims determine if they qualify for job-protected FMLA leave if they suffer from injuries or stress related to domestic violence.

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