A SAFE ENVIRONMENT: Protecting your employees and your business



By Mary MacLaren

Every employer has a reason to be scared.

I thought the definition of workplace violence was a classic disgruntled employee who shows up at an office looking for revenge over a dismissal.

I found out most cases are not like that.

Domestic violence and sexual harassment or assault takes multiple forms. The human costs are often brutal and possibly fatal. The economic consequences are incalculable, difficult to contain, and exposure to liability may be considerable.

The estimates are staggering: American businesses spend $8.5 billion each year in disability payments, lost time and productivity. One CEO described how his company spent $50 million dealing with these issues.

As chair of the Workplace Employee Assistance Program (EAP) Task Force for Chicago Says No More, I’ve learned DV and SA are complicated. But our group’s message is simple: If you don’t have a policy you need one. While 85 percent of companies have a policy about violence in the workplace, only 14 percent address SA and DV.


If you do have a policy, promote awareness to your employees and their families by saying, “We want to make life safe for you. Security in our building can protect you from your abuser while you are at work. We have helped re-locate people in abusive situations. If you are being stalked in email or on social media, we can get help for you.”

We know this is not an easy topic for discussion. Corporations are very nervous about DV and SA, and yet talking about them is the only way to stop the cycle of pain and tragedy.

Our EAP Task Force has developed a terrific model, a 10-page document detailing legal requirements for domestic violence and sexual assault policies. We have ideas and solutions.

Over the past year, since I have joined Chicago Says No More, friends I’ve known for years tell me about being raped during college or how a former spouse abused them. Their stories are unexpected but, at the same time, not surprising, when considering the statistics on DV and SA.

Our goal is for every working person to have access to a comprehensive EAP, managed by trained professionals ready to provide services to help victims. Programs include access to temporary housing, loans, emergency legal and professional services, privacy protection, safety and security for families and options for next steps.

Our Workplace EAP Task Force has partnered with Legal Momentum, a group part of the Women’s Legal Defense Fund, that built a model for helping employees survive and thrive. These proven solutions, policies and ideas can be adapted for businesses throughout Illinois. Companies with an employee assistance program already addressing DV and SA see significant returns on investment when employees know their employer stands with them, ready to help.

Being there makes more sense than being scared.

Mary MacLaren is a member of the Chicago Says No More Steering Committee and chair of its Workplace EAP Task Force on Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault. She was Executive Director of The Executives’ Club of Chicago, an executive at SRDS and Mutual of Omaha, and is a retired Colonel, U.S. Air Force. You can reach her at mary.s.maclaren@gmail.com

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