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Opinion: Domestic violence is a workplace issue

Truth Be Told

Posted online

Last edited 3:26 p.m., Oct. 14, 2019

I have an exercise for you. The next time you’re in an all-staff meeting, look around at your colleagues and consider these shocking facts: Roughly half of them have or will be victims of psychological aggression from an intimate partner and roughly a third of women and a fourth of men have or will experience physical violence by their partner.

Before you write this off saying it doesn’t affect you or your employees, think again. Additional statistics from the U.S. Department of Justice find domestic violence is not isolated to any particular income bracket or industry. It’s most prevalent in households earning $15,000-$25,000 a year, followed by households earning $50,000-$75,000 and then over $75,000.

Domestic violence knows no stranger, and no one is immune. It’s pervasive and crippling to families and communities, and we can’t afford to look away.

That’s why I’m proud Springfield Business Journal Publisher Jennifer Jackson is actively involved with Harmony House’s iCare campaign.

Throughout October, Domestic Violence Awareness Month, the nonprofit is asking businesses to do something to help end this epidemic. That ranges from raising funds to shelter women, men and children fleeing domestic violence to using their platform to bring awareness of the issue.

This is the fifth year for Harmony House’s campaign, which culminates this time around on Oct. 25. If you’re not familiar with the iCare campaign by name, you might recognize it by its symbol: a black eye patch. Perhaps you’ve noticed the photos of business leaders donning the patches in the pages of SBJ, on the sides of buses, on billboards and business marquees, and online. As of press time, 335 local businesses and organizations had signed up to support the campaign.

But you might be wondering: Why is this issue a workplace matter?

First, let’s not be confused by the “domestic” part of domestic violence. The violence may happen at home and within families, but its effects are not isolated there. In Greene County last year, there were 2,468 incidents of domestic violence aggravated assault, or nearly seven a day on average. And that’s just what was reported.

Putting Greene County Sheriff’s Office crime statistics aside, domestic violence is damaging our economy and our most valuable workplace commodity: people.

The Society for Human Resource Management and the Workplaces Respond organization report that domestic violence costs the U.S. economy $8.3 billion a year. That factors in health care costs, missed days of work, lack of productivity and even the deaths of employees.

For survivors of domestic violence, these organizations found 60% report losing their jobs and 96% say their work performance suffered as a consequence of the abuse.

What’s a workplace to do? Putting on eye patches, taking photos to post to social media and creating space for conversation is a start. But if that’s where this conversation ends, we grossly misused this opportunity.

Here are some tips from Harmony House on how employers can help their employees facing domestic violence:

1. Don’t ignore the evidence. Signs of domestic abuse include an employee having difficulty focusing at work, repeated absences and frequent physical injuries.

2. Allow for flexible scheduling. Support an employee if they need to go to the police station, attend court proceedings, see a doctor, find emergency shelter or set up a new bank account.

3. Put emergency protocols in place. Be prepared if an abuser shows up at your workplace. Establish visitor sign-in policies and implement crisis planning.

4. Examine health care coverage. Do you offer good mental health benefits and an employee assistance program that provides counseling services?

5. Show compassion. Abuse happens to anyone.

6. Change the culture. Based on the statistics, if you have women and men working at your company who are survivors of abuse, you likely also have women and men who have perpetrated abuse. Create a zero tolerance policy within your company for bullying and harassment.

Let’s all use this month as a jumping off point to start addressing domestic violence. I’m incredibly proud to be in a community that is talking about the hard issues and working together to do something about it.

Springfield Business Journal Features Editor Christine Temple can be reached at ctemple@sbj.net.

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