What Should Employers Do About Domestic Violence?

What Should Employers Do About Domestic Violence?

Domestic violence in an employee’s home life is the sort of situation HR hasn’t traditionally had to deal with. Most companies—65 percent, according to SHRM—don’t have a formal workplace domestic violence prevention policy, but Fortune’s Ellen McGirt argues that this is a tremendous oversight:

The total costs to the US economy of intimate violence – including medical care, mental health services, and time away from work exceed $8 billion a year. The figure for lost productivity alone is some $727.8 million. That’s 8 million paid work days lost each year. …

Victims have a wide variety of practical needs. They may need time away from work for legal, financial or psychological counseling – which they may not be able to afford. They may need time for court dates, and for meetings with teachers or other caregivers. They may be injured or traumatized and need time to recover. They may be having trouble focusing at work, particularly on stretch assignments. And because domestic violence can be deeply humiliating, it may be difficult for them to tell people around them what they need. They may not even know themselves. And the perpetrators often harass them at work.

“If intimate partner violence is not currently part of your inclusion plans,” McGirt asserts, “it needs to be.”

Despite the strong moral argument for supporting employees who are victims of domestic violence, many employers are understandably wary of getting involved in their employees’ home lives and personal relationships. The good news is that employers can provide critical support—in the form of things like paid leave, flexibility, or access to mental health and counseling services—without actually “getting involved” at all.

Another reason to consider developing policies around domestic violence is that growing awareness of the workplace needs of victims may increase the impact of having (or not having) such policies on an organization’s reputation and attractiveness to talent, particularly women candidates. Some employers will also soon face regulations requiring them to grant paid time off to victims of domestic violence, such as the amendments New York City recently made to its sick leave law, which require employers to grant paid time off as “safe time” to employees when they or a family member have been the victim of domestic violence, sexual abuse, or stalking.