Seminars teach employers about domestic violence

February 24, 2003|by ANDREA ROWLAND

Allegheny Energy employee Jennifer Wilson didn't consider the impact of domestic violence on the workplace until she attended several local seminars that addressed the issue, she said.

Hagerstown-based Citizens Assisting and Sheltering the Abused, or CASA, hosted the seminars last November and December to educate Washington County employers about how domestic violence affects business, and to teach managers how to create safer workplaces, CASA Executive Director Vicki Sadehvandi said.

Wilson was among about 35 employees from 14 local businesses who attended the workshops, Sadehvandi said.

"It sparked my interest because I didn't know how domestic violence affects the workplace," said Wilson, a human resources consultant. "Safety programs are very important at Allegheny, but domestic violence was not something that was ever on our radar."


Now, she knows that habitual tardiness, performance shortfalls and excessive use of sick time could signal a deeper problem, and that education is the first step to solving it, Wilson said.

"That education really starts with your management," she said.

Williamsport-based Garden State Tanning has dealt with cases in which domestic violence affected the workplace, said Ellie Loveland, a human resources department assistant who attended the CASA seminars.

One employee didn't show up for work for three days - and it wasn't until later that her employer discovered that the woman was a victim of domestic violence who had suddenly left town, Loveland said.

Though Garden State Tanning encourages workers to discuss problems with personnel managers, the stigma surrounding domestic violence might prevent some victims from talking about it, Loveland said.

"But I think the more it's talked about, the more people feel like they're not alone, and the more they're told that domestic violence is wrong, the easier it will be for them to come forward," she said.

Employers must make it clear that domestic violence won't be tolerated in the workplace, and that they will help troubled workers in any way possible, said domestic violence expert David R. Thomas, who conducted CASA's seminar in December.

"It's important to open the door so employees can talk about the problem," Thomas said. "You can only help solve problems you know about."

A retired Montgomery County, Md., police officer who founded the department's domestic violence unit, Thomas now serves as program coordinator for Domestic Violence Education at Johns Hopkins University's School of Professional Studies in Business and Education in Baltimore.

As board president for the Maryland Network Against Domestic Violence, Thomas helped draft the state's domestic violence policy for employees. Maryland in 1999 became the first state to adopt such a policy, Thomas said.

It states that:

  • The State of Maryland is dedicated to the prevention and elimination of domestic violence.

  • The State of Maryland seeks to create a supportive workplace environment in which employees feel comfortable discussing domestic violence and seeking assistance for domestic violence.

  • The State of Maryland has a zero tolerance policy for domestic violence at the workplace and will take appropriate disciplinary action and/or criminal prosecution against any employee or non-employee who commits an act of domestic violence in state offices, facilities, work sites, vehicles or while conducting any state business.

It would benefit all employers to develop similar policies, which might include provisions like more flexible scheduling to allow time for counseling and other domestic violence-related services, Thomas said.

Allegheny's Wilson hopes a successful audience with upper-level employees at the power company will lead to an in-house domestic violence education program that she hopes to launch during national Domestic Violence Awareness month in October, she said.

Eventually, she'd like to see her employer develop policies - including providing employees with information about available community resources to help combat domestic violence - to prevent abuse from following both victims and batterers into the workplace.

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