Viewpoint: When domestic violence comes to work

Published Nov. 4, 2013

Two years ago, newspapers and TV news broadcasts carried this headline story: “Husband and wife dead in Concord, N.C., shooting.” It happened in a home improvement store. Another epi- sode of domestic violence. We turn the page, go to commercial and forget about it.

But for that store, sales stopped. It was closed for a crime scene investigation. Employees were traumatized by what they’d witnessed. Customers regarded the store as a murder scene. And employers were faced with questions about providing a secure workplace: Did they know or sense domestic difficulties for their employee, and were they liable for compromising safety with that knowledge?

Kim AveryEmployers generally regard domestic violence as an issue beyond their influence, assuming, “If it happens at home, it’s not my business.” But what employers don’t recognize is that domestic violence nearly always comes to work.

Statistics show that businesses lose billions of dollars every year to domestic violence. Increased health care and mental health care costs; more frequent sick days, late days and missed work; physical injuries that interfere with labor and job performance; and mistakes and missed deadlines that plague someone who is physically at work but so distracted he or she cannot function properly — all are direct measures of the impact domestic violence has on the workplace.

While companies implement wellness programs to address losses attributable to diabetes, asthma, heart disease and obesity, they neglect the bottom-line losses related to domestic violence. Indeed, beyond the compromised performance of victims, co-workers and supervisors can also be affected. Often, they must devote time to the training of substitutes, or to coverage and compensation for lost time and productivity of the victim. And, this says nothing of the potential liability costs should an incident occur at the workplace.

But what is a company to do in the face of what is clearly a personal — though ultimately personnel — issue?

Facing the statistics is a first step. A study by the Corporate Alliance to End Partner Violence in 2005 found that 64% of victims of domestic violence indicated that their ability to work was affected by the violence. Among key causes for their decline in productivity, victims noted distraction (57%); fear of discovery (45%); harassment by intimate partner at work either by phone or in person (40%); fear of intimate partner’s unexpected visits (34%); inability to complete assignments on time (24%); and job loss (21%).

Two years later, the alliance surveyed executives and found that although nearly two-in-three corporate executives (63%) said domestic violence is a major problem in society, and 55% cited its harmful impact on productivity in their companies, a majority of top executives had blinders on when it came to seeing the reality of domestic violence victims working in their own companies.

But perhaps the most stunning statistic is that one in five, or 20%, of adults are likely to be domestic violence victims at some point. At Verizon Wireless, we see real people behind that statistic. We do the math. We have 1,300 employees at our customer contact center here in the Charleston area. That means roughly 260 are potential victims of domestic violence. That’s an astounding figure and far too many to ignore.

Verizon’s approach to addressing domestic violence in the workplace serves as an example for employer responsiveness to the issue. We have worked hard to create a culture in which employees feel safe coming forward. We train our supervisors and managers to recognize possible signs of domestic violence and then train them to respond appropriately to employees who may be victims. Our goal is to help employee victims keep their jobs and maintain their dignity while securing a safer workplace for all.

This kind of workplace response is not unique, nor is it general practice. A recent summit hosted by My Sister’s House and sponsored by Verizon pulled area employers together to begin reconciling the need for such policies and learning how to implement them. While the summit offered roll-up-your-sleeves content for human resources professionals and workplace attorneys, it is not the only opportunity to learn about such practices. We encourage other employers to visit to learn more and to seek workplace policy information from My Sister’s House.

The impact of domestic violence on our employees, our workplace safety and our bottom line absolutely makes domestic violence our business.

Kim Avery is director of customer service for the Verizon Wireless Customer Contact Center in Charleston.

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