Employers can change lives by adopting policies to help victims of domestic and sexual violence

Mary MacLaren, chair, Workplace EAP Task Force, Chicago Says No More

By Mary MacLaren

Without context, the statistics about domestic and sexual violence are shocking, but distant. One of three women and one of seven men experience domestic violence  at some point during their life. And, every 98 seconds someone in the United States is sexually assaulted.

When you take time to apply those percentages to your workplace, however, they take on new meaning. Do you work with 100 employees? One thousand?  Do you know any of your colleagues or co-workers who are DV survivors? How many may be experiencing DV right now?

Domestic violence costs U.S. employers $8.3 billion each year: $5.8 billion in increased healthcare costs and $2.5 billion attributed to absenteeism and reduced productivity. Yet, while approximately 80 percent of employers have established procedures for workplace violence, only 14 percent have specific policies addressing domestic violence or sexual assault.

Domestic and sexual violence are more than a problem for the workforce, they are a problem in the workplace. Seventy percent of employed DV victims report their abusers harassed them at work. In November of 2018 at Mercy Hospital in Chicago, we witnessed again how domestic violence can erupt in the workplace with tragic consequences. Training for active shooter situations and recently upgraded security measures had been instituted. But what if physicians and staff members also had been trained to be effective bystanders when they suspect a co-worker is a DV victim?

Chicago Says No More’s taskforce on workplace employee assistance gives companies a road map to create policies they can adopt to support employees facing DV and SA. With the expertise of 29 agency leaders, Chicago Says No More has educated and trained corporate leaders and human resources professionals responsible for 66 thousand employees. And, currently we’re assisting employers responsible for another 87 thousand more. This month, we made a new investment with CBS 2 Chicago to inspire more employers to adopt the policy, with a television spot that aired in prominent time slots and in a series of e-blasts aimed at key corporate decision makers.

The City of Chicago was among the first employers to adopt our model policy.  “As soon as we began sharing information about benefits for city workers who were dealing with domestic violence, I started hearing stories,” says 19th Ward Alderman Matt O’Shea, who with Mayor Rahm Emanuel introduced an ordinance, now law, granting city employees who are DV and SA victims as much as four weeks of paid time off. “It was eye opening. It became clear that nearly everyone is touched by some kind of intimate violence. Our city’s program not only offers immediate support, but also begins discussions to bring this challenge out of the shadows,” adds O’Shea who also is a member of the steering committee for Chicago Says No More.

By addressing the threat of targeted violence as more than risk management, you can disrupt the cycle of intimate violence affecting your workplace. You can better ensure the safety and well-being of your employees. Our Workplace EAP model policy includes guidelines for employers to offer:

  • Protection from discrimination
  • Sample confidentiality policies
  • Employee benefit options and information about what other employers provide
  • Procedures for reporting violations
  • Responsible ways to offer time off and other reasonable accommodations
  • Ways to review and assist employees with performance issues stemming from the employee’s status as a DV or SA victim
  • Responses to employees who threaten or commit domestic violence
  • Awareness and education resources regarding DV and SA
  • Training for bystanders, so colleagues can learn to listen and support victims and connect them with appropriate resources

Employers tell us adopting these policies can be accomplished without excessive expense because it is possible to add domestic violence and sexual assault to benefits that cover other personal emergencies. With our model policy as a guide, implementing ways to provide life-saving benefits can be seamless.  While these benefits certainly benefit a company’s bottom line, the real benefit is the life-changing, often life-saving assistance to employees.

Human resources professionals, decision makers including owners and executives, along with employees who would like to see their company adopt policies to support those facing DV and SA, are encouraged to request additional information.

Please visit ChicagoSaysNoMore.org to request a copy of our guidelines about how you can tackle a serious issue affecting your people and your workplace.  We can help.

Mary MacLaren is the Former Executive Director of the Executives’ Club of Chicago, Vice President at a Nielsen Company, Vice President at Mutual of Omaha and retired Colonel, USAF with expertise in leadership, international relations and public and NATO defense policy.

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