Domestic violence programs important in workplace

Most businesses would jump at the chance to both curb costs and improve the lives of their employees. Domestic violence awareness training is one of those programs for managers and other staff that can save money.

And lives.

A study by the American Bar Association’s commission on domestic violence found that family violence costs American businesses about $67 billion a year. Nearly $5 billion of that is in medical expenses, and another $100 million comes from lost productivity and absenteeism.

“Domestic violence affects the bottom line,” said Jan Eitel of Colorado Springs-based Stop Family Violence Coalition. “It’s not a pretty subject, and people put blinders on. But employers can help.”

Most organizations already have policies prohibiting violence in the workplace. But such policies often don’t specifically address the special needs of domestic violence victims. For instance, employees are unaware that the Family Medical Leave Act might help protect their jobs if they have to take time off from work to deal with abuse-related injuries and issues. Other workplace policies and procedures can actually further victimize women in abusive situations.

Twenty percent of battered women lose their jobs because of the abuse they suffer at home.

“Things like zero-tolerance attendance policies can put a woman back into an unsafe home,” said Amber Ptak, violence prevention coordinator at the El Paso County Department of Health and Environment.

Ptak will speak at a seminar, “When Family Violence Comes to Work,” being sponsored by the Mountain States Employers Council. The one-day program, which is being held Tuesday at the Penrose House, includes information on the dynamics of family violence and its effects on the workplace. Sessions will address ways in which managers, supervisors and human resource staff can help workers who find themselves in violent situations.

Such awareness education is necessary at all levels of an organization, said Eitel.

“This is a community-wide issue,” she said. “We need to involve the corporate world, from CEO to line employee.”

Domestic violence costs to business are direct and indirect, manifesting in ways from increased medical insurance premiums, reduced productivity and increased absenteeism to reduced morale and teamwork.

A woman is battered every 15 seconds in America.

Victims in abusive relationships try to leave their violent situations an average of seven to nine times before they actually get away, said Howard Black, program manager for the Colorado Springs Police Department’s domestic violence unit.

“It’s not that they’re indecisive,” he said. “They’re testing the water, seeing how employers and family members will respond. We all need to become team players to support the victim.”

Seventy-five percent of all domestic violence homicides occur when the victim leaves the relationship.

The CSPD responds to an average of between 15,000 and 20,000 domestic violence calls per year. Black said many such calls don’t initially come in as reports of domestic violence. Estimates are that only one in 10 acts of domestic violence get reported to the police.

One such call was the worst-case scenario.

In August 1999, a Florida man shot and killed his estranged wife inside Colorado Springs’ Memorial Hospital. Virginia Rich, assistant human resource director at the facility, said that while there’s no way to prepare for such an event, the violent incident did prompt hospital administration to look at what they could do to address domestic violence issues that seep into the workplace.

“As more incidents of domestic violence come into the workplace, employers have had to recognize it’s not just the couple’s problem,” said Rich.

Memorial Hospital provides training to managers and supervisors with the help of Detective Black and The Center for Prevention of Domestic Violence.

“(The program) has increased sensitivity to the issue and helped managers to help employees,” Rich said. “We realized we needed to give employees and managers more support to come forward … and report when they don’t feel safe.”