If an employee is being abused, can you -- should you -- help?
Domestic violence is a serious social problem -- but is it really any of your business when employees are enduring it? The answer is yes, according to a growing coalition of community activists and human-resources professionals. Several nonprofits across the country are working with companies to develop workplace initiatives to help curb domestic violence toward women and men. "It is the right thing to do, and it's also good for your bottom line," says Barbara Marlowe, director of community service at the Boston law office of Mintz Levin Cohn Ferris Glovsky and Popeo PC.
In general, Marlowe says, "it shouldn't be the business of business to get involved in employees' lives." But domestic violence is different, she adds, since it has a huge impact on a victim's work life and general well-being.
Heather Copelas, a spokesperson for retailer Jordan's Furniture Inc., based in Avon, Mass., says that in 1999 her company joined a group called Employers Against Domestic Violence. The reasoning behind joining the group, which Marlowe's law firm founded in 1996, was based on a "Why not do it?" philosophy, Copelas says. "We distribute the phone number for a help line by posting it in employee common areas such as the cafeteria and bathrooms, and a few months ago we did an employee clothing drive for a local shelter. The clothing drive was a way to help the shelter, but it also reinforced the fact to employees that if they are in this kind of situation, we can't counsel them -- but we can help them get help."
And as Marlowe says, such openness is invaluable. "Women who are abused always say they wish they had someone to turn to," she says. In awful circumstances, the workplace may be the only support network they have.
If it comes to your attention that an employee is dealing with an abusive partner, you should try to find out whether that worker is being threatened by the abuser. If so, consider the following measures.
- Give the worker a parking spot near a door.
- Remove his or her name from the dial-by-name phone directory. "You don't want the batterer to use your company's resources to harass your employee," notes Barbara Marlowe of law firm Mintz Levin.
- Offer a flexible schedule, since stalkers track people's whereabouts and movements. "Our most predictable habits are around our work schedule," Marlowe says.
- If the employee sits at a reception desk or by a big first-floor window, relocate the person to another floor or an interior space. If you have satellite facilities, consider letting the worker set up more than one office.
- Provide security guards with a photo of the abuser. "The guy might show up with flowers, and somebody could direct him right to her office," Marlowe says.
- Listen to your employee. Don't make changes without his or her consent. Be discreet and helpful, but don't force the person to take any protective steps.
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