Like mental health, domestic violence or DV (also known as intimate partner violence) is an often uncomfortable topic that is not widely discussed in the workplace. DV is viewed too often by business leaders as a purely private matter and not a business concern. However, its impact and pervasiveness demand much more attention from employers. The fact that it usually endangers women and that C-suite business leadership is often male-dominated add another distressing dimension to this problem. It’s insensitive gender-based attitudes that can label DV as only a “women’s issue.” And, yes, in one sense it is a woman’s issue. 1.3 million women each year are victims of assault by an intimate partner, usually a male. About one in five full time employees say they have been the victim of domestic violence. Over a lifetime, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that one in every four American women and one in every ten men will experience domestic violence. DV is truly a societal and workplace issue.
October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. I’d like to help bring awareness to the business community about DV, why it’s a business concern, and what business leaders should do.
Domestic Violence is Often Misunderstood
Ignorance is not an excuse for inaction by businesses. DV can be physical (visible) or psychological (less visible). Like the coronavirus, it doesn’t care about our zip codes. It affects people of all economic statuses, ages, races, religions, and sexual orientations. It can involve physical abuse, like hitting and punching, or emotional abuse like name calling, insults, and shaming. Or sexual abuse like rape, assault, or pressure for sex. Sometimes economic abuse occurs when the perpetrator withholds funds or forces debt on the less powerful partner. Manipulations around children, pets, and other family members or friends are common as well. The theme of DV is control and the maintenance of overwhelming power in the relationship. The common pattern is a violent episode, then apologies, promises, and making up. Then repeating or escalating the violence.
Domestic Violence is Deadly
About three women per day are killed by their intimate partner in the U.S. The most common cause of female fatalities in the American workplace is DV. The Department of Labor says that 27% of all violent acts in American workplaces are DV related. About 20 women per minute are victims of some type of non-fatal DV assault – leading to more injuries to women than even motor vehicle accidents.
The Department of Labor reports that DV costs its victims about eight million lost days of work each year. This results in billions of dollars of lost productivity to employers. Deaths or injurious incidents in the workplace traumatize workers and further disrupt business operations. Other impacts relate to healthcare costs. While physical consequences can be short-term (bruises or broken bones), DV leads to long-term healthcare costs to treat conditions associated with chronic stress, such as hypertension and cardiovascular disease. Psychological illnesses that are associated with DV include depressive disorders, acute stress disorders, PTSD, and a variety of detrimental psychological conditions in children that can have long-lasting consequences.
What Should Employers Do?
- Policies. Re-examine your DV prevention and awareness policy if you have one. Many businesses don’t have a DV prevention and awareness policy. If your business doesn’t, create and communicate such a policy now. Consult with your legal counsel to explore aspects relating to job protections for victims taking time off to pursue legal protections, nondiscrimination, workplace restraining orders, and other legal nuances. Involve your safety and security resources. Local law enforcement agencies may also aid in developing policies.
- Training. Employers should train their managers and supervisors to recognize and respond to signs of DV. Employees also need to be trained in recognizing the signs of DV. Start by engaging and publicizing the services of your Employee Assistance Program (EAP), Student Assistance Program (SAP), or your local DV support agency. They can educate employees and present options and resources available to victims.
- Talk About DV, Create Awareness, and Reduce Stigma. Employers can and often do lead the way for constructive changes in our society. Importantly, employers can help empower people, versus stigmatizing victims. Creating awareness around DV is one such opportunity. Employers can incorporate information about awareness of DV and assistance resources into employee orientation programs, wellness fairs, soft-skill training seminars, employee handbooks, intranet sites, newsletters, payroll stuffers, e-mail blasts, posters, and brochures. Help employees know they will not be penalized or stigmatized for seeking help and that their employer can help them find resources and support when needed.
DV is a workplace issue. Please don’t wait for a DV incident to happen in your workplace! October is a great month to do something proactive about DV.
About the Author
Norman Winegar, LCSW, CEAP, NCAC II is the Chief Clinical Officer at Espyr. For over 30 years, Norman has practiced in mental health, substance misuse, and EAP settings. He has also worked in leadership positions in both public and private sector behavioral health organizations. An author of four books, he is frequently called on for presentations and as a panelist to share his expertise and experience as a mental health professional.
For over 30 years Espyr, has provided innovative mental and behavioral health solutions to help organizations improve productivity, lower turnover and absenteeism, and reduce healthcare expenses. Espyr’s portfolio of customized counseling, coaching and consulting solutions help people and organizations achieve their full potential by providing mental health support and driving positive behavioral change. For more information on how Espyr can help your organization, call Espyr at 888-570-3479 or click here.
Partnership Against Domestic Violence
National Resource Center on Domestic Violence
When Domestic Violence Comes to Work
Society for Human Resource Management
U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention