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OC LEADER BOARD

An executive noticed her assistant was getting an increased number of personal calls that would leave her upset.

After exploring what was happening, the executive learned that her assistant was in an abusive relationship that was escalating at home.

The executive sat with her assistant to study our website and convinced her to call us. The executive then permitted her assistant to use her time at work to seek support.

While our economy works its way back to health, unemployment rates, consumer prices and inflation aren’t the only indicators we should be watching and keeping an eye on.

October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month (DVAM). Domestic violence affects all genders and ages, and can send employees and their families into tailspins. Domestic violence can be physical, sexual, emotional, verbal, financial and/or digital.

While many people consider domestic violence a private problem that happens at home behind closed doors, the consequences more often reach beyond the home and into the workplace.

In a survey of 164 individuals in shelters and other domestic abuse programs, 83% reported that their abusive partners disrupted their ability to work, according to the Institute for Women’s Policy Research.

Among those who experienced disruptions, 70% said they were not able to have a job when they needed one, and 53% said they lost a job because of the abuse. About 49% said they missed one or more days of work, 18% missed out on a promotion or raise, and 38% said they lost out on other work opportunities.

“In the United States, more than one in three women experience sexual violence, physical violence, and/or stalking by an intimate partner in her lifetime,” said the survey. “Numerous studies have explored the impact of intimate partner violence (IPV)—in which one person seeks to control another through psychological, sexual, financial, and/or physical abuse—on different aspects of survivors’ lives, especially their health.”

A Boss Who Notices

Employers are increasingly aware of the impact relationship violence is having on their employees and they are checking in when they notice that an employee is falling behind or experiencing any changes in behavior.

The costs to individual victims are well documented in several categories, from emotional trauma to loss of income to health problems to even a loss of life.

Employers pay the price as well—over 7.9 million paid workdays are lost each year due to domestic violence, according to The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Billions of dollars are spent annually on medical and mental health care services, which are most often paid by employers.

Recognizing domestic violence may exist in your place of business isn’t easy but remaining unaware and being unprepared to support victims and deal with abusers can bring dire consequences for everyone.

A former employer that failed to respond to an employee’s risk of domestic violence was served a wrongful death claim. That employer then lost $850,000, according to the Futures Without Violence organization.

Work at Home

Now, with remote work in play, and many victims working at home with their abusers, it can be more difficult to recognize and address domestic violence problems.

Domestic violence calls to the Orange County Sheriff in April 2020 were up 25% from a year earlier.

A woman who walked into our business office during the peak of the pandemic told us that things at home had been escalating and she was finding it hard to reach out for help.

Her supervisor noticed the change in her demeanor—withdrawn and anxious—and asked how he could help. She shared that her abuser only left her alone when she was at work and would notice if she missed work. Her employer gave her time during her workday to come in and get linked to our shelter and services.  

Partnerships

Human Options provides violence prevention education to more than 8,000 people a year by partnering with Orange County companies, schools, police departments and others.

For example, a recent partnership with Hoag Memorial Hospital Presbyterian centered on creating a safe space to talk about domestic violence. We worked with everyone from top executives to patient care specialists to develop domestic violence training that would be integrated as a part of Hoag’s culture.

We taught words and phrases to help employees recognize the signs of domestic violence:

“You’ve mentioned you’re not sleeping. Has something at home changed?”

“Do you feel safe?”

“I’ve noticed some changes and I am concerned.”

In partnering with Edwards Lifesciences, we trained employees about available resources and encouraged them to wear purple, the color symbolic of domestic violence awareness violence on October 21.

Early Signs

With Human Options’ training, companies learn to notice the potential early signs of an employee being abused. These signs include constant or increasing performance issues, consistently missing work on Mondays, unexplained bruises and withdrawing from activities.

We teach leaders and managers how to talk about domestic violence and guide supervisors in properly and lawfully approaching employees about domestic violence.

Employers can incorporate domestic violence assistance into their health and wellness programs. Our trainers work with employees to help them lead changes in your workplace culture and create connections to support victims.

Victims need to know they matter—that they are not the cause of the abuse. They must be treated with compassion and offered support, either on-site or online in a secure, private space in the workplace or elsewhere.

Being proactive with domestic violence training rather than waiting for an incident to happen will go a long way in sparing you and your employees the pain and costs.

Editor’s Note: Maricela Rios-Faust is CEO of Irvine-based Human Options, which was begun by four women in 1981. It reported $5.4 million in revenue for the 12 months ended June 30, 2020. It has 55 employees and 15,000 volunteers.  For more information, call (949) 737-5242 or email preventioneducation@humanoptions.org.

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