Domestic Violence in the Workplace Research Paper

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All too often the media does not cover incidents in which domestic violence spills over into the workplace; hence the public and policymakers are unaware of the numerous acts of domestic violence that are committed in workplaces. Furthermore, work colleagues, and even employers, are rarely aware of the many ways domestic violence impacts their workplaces. Bruises perpetrated by a partner are hidden under long sleeves and masked by a forced smile, low morale and self-esteem are recorded as poor job performance, and the use of company resources to deliver verbal and written threats or stalk are examples of the many faces of domestic violence in the workplace.

Outline

I. The Extent of Workplace Domestic Violence

II. The Effects of Domestic Violence on Employees

A. The Effects of Domestic Violence on the Abused Employee While at Work

B. The Impact of the Perpetrator-Employee on the Job

III. The Consequences for Coworkers

IV. Costs to Businesses

V. Legal Rights and Employment Protections for Domestic Violence Victims

VI. How Domestic Violence Is Being Addressed in the Workplace

VII. Conclusion

I. The Extent of Workplace Domestic Violence

While there is no precise estimate of how much domestic violence occurs at work, it clearly represents a daunting challenge to both safety and productivity, affecting a sizable proportion of the approximately 140 million employees in the United States. Several national-level data sources shed some light on the extent of workplace domestic violence.

First, data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries (CFOI) shows that homicide is the leading cause of death for women on the job (BLS 1994). During 1992–1994, 17 percent of the alleged perpetrators who killed women at work were current or former husbands or boyfriends (BLS 1996).

Second, according to a Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) report, each year approximately 3 percent of workplace homicides are known to be perpetrated by an intimate partner. Of the workplace homicides committed by an intimate, 62 percent were committed by a husband (n = 122), and 37 percent were committed by a boyfriend (n = 72). Far fewer homicides, nearly 2 percent (n = 3), were committed by a wife (Rugala and Issacs 2004, p. 42).

Third, National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS) data show that an annual average of over 1.7 million workplace violent victimizations (i.e., rape, sexual assault, robbery, and simple and aggravated assault) occur each year. Intimate partners were the reported perpetrators of these violent acts in an average of 1.1 percent of workplace violence victimizations each year, yielding an estimate of approximately 19,000 workplace violence victimizations by intimates each year (Duhart 2001). Data from the 1987–1992 NCVS confirm that a larger percentage of female employees were victimized by an intimate than their male counterparts. Five percent of the women victimized at work were attacked by a current or former spouse or boyfriend compared with 1 percent of the men (Bachman 1994).

These estimates, however, drastically underestimate the extent of domestic violence in the workplace. While there are existing data systems that can be used to identify work-related deaths (e.g., BLS CFOI), work injuries resulting from being victimized (e.g., Employer’s Reports of Injury and Illness or Occupational Safety and Health Administration logs), homicides (e.g., FBI Supplemental Homicide File), and violent victimizations (e.g., NCVS), none of these sources was specifically designed to identify the nexus between domestic violence and the workplace or while at work. This inability to measure workplace domestic violence is, in part, because of measurement limitations in the existing data that include: (1) samples that are not selected from the currently employed population, and/or (2) the lack of a detailed victim/offender relationship measure (see Fisher and Peek-Asa 2005). Thus, the answers to many important questions about the frequency, types, and consequences of domestic violence in the workplace are largely unknown.

II. The Effects of Domestic Violence on Employees

In a 2002 survey of 100 senior executives and managers from Fortune 1000 companies, 56 percent were aware of employees who had experienced domestic violence (as cited in Randel and Wells 2003). The few workplace-focused studies have documented that domestic violence negatively impacts the safety and well-being of the abused employee, the perpetrator employee, coworkers, and the organization.

A. The Effects of Domestic Violence on the Abused Employee While at Work

Research has shown that many domestic violence victims miss days of work or are tardy due to the physical and psychological abuse their bodies endure while not at work. To illustrate, a 1997 national study reported that 24 percent of women between the ages of eighteen and sixty-four years old who had experienced domestic violence indicated that the abuse caused them to arrive late at work or miss days of work (Family Violence Prevention Fund 2005a, 2005b).

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2003), victims of intimate partner violence lose a total of nearly 8 million days of paid work—the equivalent of more than 32,000 full-time jobs—and nearly 5.6 million days of household productivity as a result of the violence. Farmer and Tiefenthaler (2004) estimated that there are between 3 million (using NVCS data) and 7 million (using National Violence against Women data) lost work days per year, with a lower-bound estimate of losses of $192 million shared by the victims and their employers.

A large proportion of abused women lose their jobs or earn lower wages as a consequence of their violent experiences and the resulting absenteeism or poor performance (see Farmer and Tiefenthaler 2004; Lloyd 1997; Lloyd and Taluc 1999). In her report to the Taylor Institute, Raphael (1996) estimated that between 24 and 30 percent of abused working women lose their jobs due to their domestic violence situations. These studies do not identify whether or not victims disclosed their situations to their employers.

Although domestic violence victims suffer negative consequences at their workplaces, studies have also shown that domestic violence does not affect involvement in the labor market. Using three national-level data sets to build game theoretic models, Farmer and Tiefenthaler (2004) showed that domestic violence in fact has a positive effect on labor market participation. In other words, abused women are more likely to work than women who are not abused. Lloyd’s (1997, 1999) interviews with and survey of randomly selected women in a Chicago neighborhood echo Farmer and Tiefenthaler’s results: Women who experienced intimate partner violence were employed at a rate that was not significantly different from women who were not abused. Although this may seem to contradict findings of the negative effects of domestic violence on work performance, there are reasons that domestic violence victims would seek employment. One explanation is that abused women work to maintain or regain economic independence. Another reason could be that abused women feel safer at work than at home, although the workplace domestic violence research suggests that this may not always be true for some women.

These studies do not identify whether domestic violence victims have similar earning potential to that of nonvictims. It is likely that although victims are employed in equal or greater proportions than nonvictims, domestic violence negatively impacts the victims’ wages, lengths of employment, and benefits status.

B. The Impact of the Perpetrator-Employee on the Job

Of the many domestic violence victims assaulted, stalked, or harassed at their workplaces, how many of the perpetrators of these acts were also at work? Little research has examined the behavior of the perpetrator-employee who uses job-related resources to execute his/her abuse against a partner, or the negative effects of abusive behavior on work performance. Reckitt and Fortman (2004), working for the nonprofit Maine Department of Labor and Family Crisis Services, interviewed participants in domestic violence intervention programs in six cities in Maine. Their results showed that 85 percent of the offenders reported that they had used company resources to contact their partners while on the job, with over three-fourths (77 percent) using the company phone. Nearly a quarter (24 percent) used the company cell phone to check up on, pressure, threaten, or express remorse/anger to the victimized partners. A quarter of the abusers used the company car during working hours to drive to victims’ residences.

Their results also revealed that the abuser’s job performance was impaired: 41 percent of the abusers reported that their abusive behavior toward their partners had a negative effect on their job performance. When on the job, nearly half (48 percent) admitted that it caused them to have difficulty concentrating on their work because they were thinking about their relationship. Slightly less (19 percent) provided anecdotes of accidents or near-miss accidents that were brought on by their abusive behaviors toward a loved one. Their abusive behavior while not at work resulted in 15,221 hours of work time lost because they were in police custody. At Maine’s average hourly wage, this equals approximately $200,000 in lost wages.

The Massachusetts-based Employers against Domestic Violence conducted focus groups with twenty-nine male domestic violence offenders that supports negative effects of domestic violence perpetration on the workplace (Rothman, no date). Furthermore, offenders reported that supervisors were often sympathetic to them, rarely penalized or docked vacation or personal days for leaving work early or missing days to attend court dates, and, for a few, their supervisors posted bail. Supervisors were likely to address substance abuse issues, but rarely did they address issues concerning domestic violence with the abusers.

III. The Consequences for Coworkers

Outside the media’s coverage of coworkers being killed or injured by the heinous acts of a fellow employee’s loved one or estranged partner, there is, as of this writing, little, if any, published research documenting the effects on coworkers of workplace domestic violence or working with a domestic violence victim.

IV. Costs to Businesses

Studies have shown that business executives and managers are well aware of the effects of domestic violence on the operation of their firms. Two surveys of 100 senior executives and managers from Fortune 1000 companies, one in 1994 and the other in 2002, were sponsored by Liz Claiborne. Results from the surveys revealed an increase between 1994 and 2002 in the percentage of employers who were aware of employees who had experienced domestic violence. In 1994, 40 percent of the corporate leaders were aware of employees within their organizations who were affected by domestic violence. This rose sixteen percentage points in 2002 to 56 percent being aware of employees who were affected by domestic violence (as cited in Randel and Wells 2003). Whether this represents increasing workplace domestic violence or an increased awareness is unknown, but these findings are likely a combination of both.

Almost all of the corporate leaders surveyed (91 percent) believed that domestic violence affected both the private lives and the working lives of their employees. Notably, 60 percent reported that domestic violence took a toll on their employees’ psychological well-being, physical safety (52 percent), productivity (48 percent), and attendance (42 percent). Support for these results comes from a series of focus groups with twenty-five health benefit managers from small and large businesses around the country (Partnership for Prevention 2005). The managers identified effects of domestic violence in the workplace that included absenteeism, inability to focus, poor self-esteem, low productivity, and low morale.

Half of the respondents to a Liz Claiborne survey recognized that domestic violence had a negative effect on their company’s insurance and medical costs. Nearly a third (32 percent) reported that their company’s bottom-line performance had been damaged. Over twice as many respondents (67 percent) believed that domestic violence was a serious problem that warranted their attention (as cited in Randel and Wells 2003).

The direct financial cost of domestic violence on businesses is staggering. On average, one victim can cost an employer $1,775 more in medical expenses than an employee who is not abused. An estimated $100 million in lost wages, paid sick leave, and absenteeism linked to domestic violence is also spent by businesses (as cited in Partnership for Prevention 2005). Legal liability has a price tag, too. Employers can face a range of liabilities for failing to address threats, including failure to secure the workplace from known threats and indirect liability for not intervening in known dangers (Speer 2003). While these liabilities have not been tried extensively in courts, findings increasingly favor victims. Employers can also be liable under torts for negligent hiring, retention, supervision, and termination should an employer fail to screen or remove dangerous employees or situations (Speer 2003). For example, ‘‘Courts have held companies liable for negligent hiring, negligent retention and for failure to warn because domestic violence that crosses over into the workplace may be predictable and preventable’’ (Braun Consulting News 2004). Businesses may incur additional legal liability under various laws governing their responses to workplace domestic violence, including Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) regulations, the Americans with Disabilities Act, and antidiscrimination laws (see Dougan 2004).

V. Legal Rights and Employment Protections for Domestic Violence Victims

As the scope and toll of domestic violence are better understood, legal protections for victims are increasing, and many of these include work protections. Many new policies that protect domestic violence victims against employment discrimination are being implemented, such as policies in Illinois and New York City that prohibit any employment discrimination against domestic violence victims (Weiser and Widiss 2004). Many states are also implementing policies that prohibit employers from penalizing employees for taking time off to seek protection orders or medical care or for other activities related to being a victim of domestic violence. While some of these policies are specific to victims of domestic violence, such victims are also protected under policies that address any victims of crimes. California, Colorado, Hawaii, Illinois, and Maine, as of February 2004, provide rights for victims of domestic violence to take unpaid leave (Weiser and Widiss 2004), with much state as well as federal legislation pending. Victims who need extended time off can also be protected under the Family and Medical Leave Act or the Americans with Disabilities Act (Weiser and Widiss 2004).

Other policies require employers to protect workers from the potential effects of domestic violence. The OSHA General Duty clause states that employers have an obligation to maintain a safe workplace. Some states have identified violence as a general hazard, and some have identified domestic violence in the workplace as an aspect of the violence hazard. California, for example, requires all businesses to implement an Injury and Violence Prevention Program that requires employers to identify all potential workplace hazards, including violence (Howard and Barish 2003). Cal/OSHA has provided comprehensive guidelines for violence prevention in the workplace in its Guidelines for Workplace Security, and this document identifies family members or acquaintances of employees as posing a potential threat (Howard and Barish 2003).

VI. How Domestic Violence Is Being Addressed in the Workplace

The Family Violence Prevention Fund (2005a) reported that ‘‘an increasing number of corporations, foundations and unions are addressing domestic violence by implementing workplace policies, training employees and managers, and supporting community efforts to end domestic violence.’’ Information about ‘‘best practices’’ addressing workplace partner violence is available through the Corporate Alliance to End Partner Violence (CAEPV), a national nonprofit organization whose mission is to reduce ‘‘the costs and consequences of partner violence at work and [eliminate] it altogether’’ through a variety of means, including education, policies and programs, and legal issues and legislation. Since 1995 over sixty businesses and organizations, including State Farm Insurance, Target Stores, Southwest Airlines, the National Football League, and Women Empowered against Violence, have exchanged information, collaborated on projects, and used their influence to instigate change in their fight against intimate partner violence in the workplace (Corporate Alliance to End Partner Violence [CAEPV] 2005).

Examples of the workplace initiatives that CAEPV members have implemented to address intimate partner violence include:

  • CIGNA and Archer Daniels Midland providing easy access to education and prevention material via newsletters, payroll stuffers, and request faxes.
  • McKee Foods/Arkansas developing ‘‘Project Ruth’’—a cross-functional team dealing with partner violence at work. In its efforts to create an atmosphere of encouragement and support for victims, Project Ruth provides needed help to McKee employees who experience domestic violence (CAEPV 2005).
  • Liz Claiborne, Inc., partnering in 2004 with the Family Violence Prevention Fund to launch the Founding Fathers Workplace Campaign (Randell and Wells 2003). This initiative increased awareness among employees about how they can both prevent domestic violence and support employees who are victims, and provided ‘‘educational materials to employees on how fathers can act as role models, and how to talk to boys and young men about violence, bullying and relationship abuse’’ (Family Violence Prevention Fund 2005b).

Outside of these few case studies, there has been little systematic research to identify how many employers are addressing the issue of domestic violence in their workplaces, what these employers are doing, and how successful they have been. Fisher and Peek-Asa (2005) conducted a content analysis of publicly available documents and found that few programs provided comprehensive strategies for addressing the problem, and no programs had been adequately evaluated. Two resources were found to be particularly helpful for employers:

  • a Sample Policy of Domestic Violence, developed by the National Center on Domestic and Sexual Violence (2004), which provides information for developing a comprehensive domestic violence workplace policy, and
  • a resource guide for employers, unions, and advocates, developed by the Family Violence Prevention Fund (2004).

A range of topics are included in these guides, including guidelines for supervising victims of domestic violence, pointers on how to talk with an employee who is a perpetrator of abuse, designing personal and workplace safety plans, securing the work area, identifying and treating domestic violence, legal issues, and union responses to domestic violence.

In spite of these and numerous other guidelines (see Fisher and Peek-Asa 2005), employers have few resources for proven programs to address domestic violence in their workplaces. They have even fewer resources about how these programs can be implemented in various work settings. A growing interest in this topic, which will be fueled by growing awareness and recognition of its toll and consequences, will hopefully lead to more informative state-of-the-art models.

VII. Conclusion

The work setting is ideal for efforts to prevent domestic violence and support its victims. Work settings are relatively controlled environments in which protection strategies can be tested and implemented. Employers should be motivated to test these programs because they will likely positively impact worker morale and productivity and could prevent potential events for which they could be held liable. As this field of work moves forward, one can hope that victims will increasingly find their employers to be positive partners in assisting him or her, and also that the workplace will be an intolerant atmosphere for abusers.

See also:

Bibliography:

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