June 25, 2014

Protecting Victims at Work:
Domestic violence impacts workers and employers

Recently, I ran across a ThinkProgress piece on a woman in DC who recently won the right to receive unemployment compensation because her firing resulted in part from pressure by an abusive partner.

It contained this statement:
And sadly, in Washington D.C. and 43 other states, it’s perfectly legal to fire a victim of domestic abuse because of that abuse. 
Naturally, this piqued my interest.

You see, in my former life, I was a retail manager. I worked for three different stores over the course of my seven years in retail. My background is human resources--dealing with people and employee-employer interactions. My interest in this story comes from a number of levels there.

My research turned up a variety of interesting facts. We should most definitely be paying attention to domestic violence in the workplace, if not for the sake of victims, then for the impact that it has on our economy.

We know that domestic violence impacts employees.

Women who are impacted by domestic violence acknowledge that this negatively impacts their job performance. In a survey, 37% of female workers out of a sample of 7,000 said that their work was negatively impacted by domestic violence.

Victims of domestic violence lose nearly 8 million days of paid work because of violence. That's over 30,000 full-time jobs. We know that among victims of stalking, one out of every four will miss up to 11 days of work each year directly because of the stalking.

We also know that homicide is the leading cause of death for women in the workplace, and we know that this is usually at the hands of an "intimate partner".

In addition to victims of domestic violence, we know that their co-workers are also impacted. In a survey, 44% of all employees said that they had felt the impacts of domestic violence in their own workplace--and most of these respondents clarified that it was because of the abuse of a co-worker.

We know that this costs companies money.

Lost productivity according to our best estimates costs companies across the US $84 billion a year.

Forbes pointed out that:
According to Absenteeism: The Bottom-Line Killer, a publication of workforce solution company Circadian, unscheduled absenteeism costs roughly $3,600 per year for each hourly worker and $2,650 each year for salaried employees. 
Forbes highlights that absenteeism has both direct and indirect costs:
The costs can be attributed to many factors including:
Wages paid to absent employeesHigh-cost replacement workers (overtime pay for other employees and/or temporary workers)Administrative costs of managing absenteeism 
Other indirect costs and effects of absenteeism include:
Poor quality of goods/services resulting from overtime fatigue or understaffingReduced productivityExcess manager time (dealing with discipline and finding suitable employee replacements)Safety issues (inadequately trained employees filling in for others, rushing to catch up after arriving as a replacement, etc)Poor morale among employees who have to “fill in” or do extra work to cover absent coworkers
If you factor in both sick days and worker's compensation, the total jumps to $576 billion.

In the meantime, a 2006 survey showed that 50% of all employers with 1,000 or more employees had an incident of workplace violence in the 12 months before they took the survey.

So it's pretty clear that domestic violence is impacting our workplaces.

So why don't we do something about it?

Despite the fact that 66% of corporate leaders identify domestic violence as a major social issue, only 12% in the most recent survey available (from 2002) said that corporations should pay a major role in addressing violence. 91% of senior corporate executives said that employees' private and professional lives are both affected by domestic violence, and yet, over 70% of workplaces in the US have no policy addressing the situation. Only 4% train employees on domestic violence and its workplace impacts.

At the same time, only 7 states offer domestic violence victims freedom from discrimination, and only 23 protect their ability to access unemployment benefits if they are fired.

These numbers are not insignificant. We know that 75% of domestic violence victims surveyed reported that they stayed in an abusive relationship longer because of financial concerns.

And yet, as Bryce Covert points out at ThinkProgress:
Beyond the patchwork of state laws, “there is no real protection at the federal level for this,” Caiola said, although bills to provide employment protection are introduced “in every session.” In fact, the Security and Financial Empowerment Act was introduced in the house on March 15, which would bar employers from discriminating against domestic violence or sexual assault victims. The bill has been referred to committee and doesn’t have a vote scheduled.
 We have overwhelming evidence that this affects employees' lives, that it affects companies' bottom line, and that senior executives are aware of it.

So, tell me again, what excuses are left to continue to deny victims of domestic violence workplace protections?

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