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Making Domestic Violence a Business Issue

February 1, 1998
Related Topics: Vision, Workplace Violence, Safety and Workplace Violence, Featured Article
Workforce talked with Jim Hardeman, corporate EAP manager for Polaroid, about the company's domestic-violence program. The highlights:

Q: Why do you believe domestic violence is an issue businesses should respond to?
A: In 1992, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health stated that approximately 750 workplace homicides occur annually, and that 4 percent of these acts of violence involve intimate relationships. If 4 percent can be translated into an actual number of deaths, is 30 [4 percent of Polaroid's workforce] female employees' deaths insignificant? Then, there are an estimated one million workers who annually become victims of nonfatal workplace violence. Incidents such as intimidation, sexual harassment, stalking, assaults, battery and rape carry no price tag. No dollar amount can balance the impact of depression, panic disorders, post-traumatic stress, eating disorders and other addictive illnesses stemming from incidents of workplace violence.

Q: Aren't there significant costs incurred from domestic violence?
A: Oh yes. Victimization in the workplace can cost an estimated $55 million annually in lost wages.

Q: Why don't more businesses take action?
A: For the most part, businesses don't have the knowledge to deal with family violence incidences in the workplace and many businesses still maintain the view that what occurs in partner abuse is a "private family affair." No internal protocols are in place as a response, and furthermore, no training for employee assistance program workers or human resources personnel administrator professionals are recommended.

Q: What advice do you have for other organizations interested in putting together guidelines for handling incidents of domestic violence?
A: Protocols, guidelines and policies that address [domestic violence as it manifests into workplace violence] need to be developed through a formal, well-thought-out process; skipping a crucial step could result in communicating "false hopes" of safety to employees and serious liability concerns. In fact, issues of liability must be of considerable concern when formulating plans of implementation, as well as associated training of management and educating the workforce. Knowledge of company personnel policies and grievance procedures are a must.

Q: What other lessons can you share with HR?
A: A company's materials [regarding domestic violence] should be clear and straightforward. For example, in our Recommended Procedures for Safety and Protection in Family Violence Situations, we have a definition [of family violence]; a detailed description of how employees, managers, HR and EAP counselors should respond; elements of a safety plan; and resources. [Polaroid has consulted with hundreds of companies about these plans.] We take extraordinary effort not to victimize employees further.

Q: How do you guarantee continuing employee involvement?
A: You have to continuously improve your materials. You also want to issue statements periodically that remind those in the workplace that the issue is still alive. You can't just say, "We did that last year." You have to keep making it better.

Q: Do you encounter any resistance when you try to implement these programs around the country?
A: People sometimes think it can't happen in their workplaces. You simply need to talk to them and show them that it can happen anywhere.

Q: Can Polaroid's guidelines be adapted in company's with foreign operations?
A: We recommend that management in non-U.S. sites develop their own geographic and culturally appropriate policies to manage any workplace violence issues.

Workforce, February 1998, Vol. 77, No. 2, p. 84.

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