When domestic violence enters the workplace

From faltering stocks on Wall Street to dwindling housing markets, the economy has been the latest major distraction for American workers. More serious than just lost productivity, a rise in domestic violence has been one of the most unsettling effects of a bad economy on the workplace.

“A correlation between the economy and domestic violence makes complete sense to most counselors and professionals who work with troubled people: when they economy falters, domestic violence rises. Money is one of the most disputed family issues in the best of times, but when pressures mount - job loss, home foreclosures, increased costs of living - frayed tempers often give way to violence,” according to Julie Ferguson at HR Web Cafe.

Domestic abuse is to blame for close to 8 million lost workdays, an amount equal to 32,000 full-time jobs, according to CDC studies.

Employers should be especially concerned with the rise in domestic violence. Beyond the effect it may have on worker productivity, employers may be held liable for dismissing the signs of domestic violence in the workplace.

In 1994 the case of La Rose vs. State Mutual Life Assurance Co., Francesia La Rose’s family members filed a wrongful-death suit against her employer after she was murdered by a former boyfriend at work. The family claimed her employer failed to protect La Rose after knowing about the threat. State Mutual Life Insurance settled for $350,000.

Laws regarding employers’ responsibilities in cases of domestic abuse differ from state to state, so seek the advice of legal professionals in your area for laws specific to your state.

Employers should be trained to be aware of the warning signs in potential domestic abuse victims and have a policy that allows abused employees to take paid time off, according to Denise Curran, a psychotherapist at ComPsych on Human Resource Executive Online.

As part of the company policy, Curran also recommends that abuse victims be connected with an employee assistance program that provides counseling and victim resources.

“For many victims, however, admitting their abuse to co-workers or managers may not feel natural. Curran says companies can gain the trust needed to achieve such a confession by running a training program on the topic and showing that anyone who steps forward will be treated with support, not scrutiny. Oftentimes, once employees take part in the training program, they may go to their EAP counselor on their own to admit they are being abused, [Curran] says.”


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