Stopping domestic violence can start at the workplace, observers say

“I came to work one day and peeped into the cube of my analyst, who was wearing a turtleneck sweater, hat and scarf in the middle of summer,” said Suzanne Garber, chief networking officer at International SOS Inc. in Philadelphia (not where the incident occurred).

“She refused to turn her face to me when I said good morning,” Garber said. “I waited. When she (finally) did, I saw she had a black eye and fat lip. It looked as if her nose had been attempted to be ripped off.”

Her husband worked in sales there.

The abuse victim feared that reporting the incident to the human resources department could create more trouble at home and lead to job loss.

(Companies see domestic violence as a threat.)

“Only seven states bar employment discrimination for victims of domestic violence — California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Illinois, New York, Oregon and Rhode Island,” said Monrae English, employment attorney and victim advocate at the Fresno, Calif., law firm Wild, Carter &Tipton.

“HR said they needed a police report to enforce disciplinary action or keep him away from her,” Garber said. “She was too afraid and refused. Her state wasn’t one of the seven.”

Victims may have more power than perceived. English said termination over a potential incident could create legal liability, with a jury’s sympathy leaning toward the employee. She also said companies puts themselves at risk by failing to act if an incident develops.

Experience with 1,500 domestic violence cases confirmed that, for victims, “the greatest fear is that of being terminated, even over assaulted at work,” said Steve Albrecht, who is retired from the San Diego Police Department, a Psychology Today columnist and the director of a La Mesa, Calif.’s workplace violence consulting and training firm. “They may think they can reason with the perpetrator out of violence,” but they need a job to move.”

Attorney Courtney Cahill, president of the membership consulting organization Employers Against Domestic Violence Inc. in Boston, said, “They rely on their paychecks to get away from the abuser.”

Cahill, who is also chief of the domestic violence unit for Bristol County district attorney Sam Sutter in Massachusetts, said Employers Against Domestic Violence also trains and has board members to help organizations in HR, security and related issues.

Garber said the employee was in “fear and denial, protecting her abuser.” Albrecht tells co-workers that victims secretly want help. He advises co-workers not to keep secrets that benefit the victim but put others at risk.

“We cannot continue to give the power back to the abuser,” he said.

Dr. Mildred L. Culp of WorkWise® welcomes your questions at © 2014 Passage Media.