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Leadership teams to develop interventions for the workplace
The name of the organization is The National Workplace Resource Center on Domestic Violence. If that strikes you as odd, think again; think of all the work/life and work/family programs currently being offered to employees, and the name begins to make much more sense.
"Domestic violence doesn’t stay home; it goes to work. And if an employee lives with chronic violence, this is not a healthy situation for the employee or their co-workers," says Esta Soler, executive director of the Family Violence Prevention Fund (FVPF) in San Francisco, the parent organization of The National Workplace Resource Center on Domestic Violence.
"Even the idea that the incidents may only occur at home is a misnomer," she continues. "Some may start at home, but end up at the workplace. It’s far too common for women to be stalked or harassed, and some of the most horrific homicides have been the result of spouses or ex-spouses coming to the workplace to find not only their spouse and their partners, but other employees who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time and ended up victims of murder."
It is for those and other reasons that the FVPF, along with The Hitachi Foundation in Washington, DC, Blue Shield of California, and Verizon Wireless of New York City, are cosponsoring the Corporate Citizen Initiative (CCI) on Domestic Violence, a first-of-its-kind national project that is bringing together leadership teams to develop workplace-based programs to stop domestic violence. The first phase of the initiative will incorporate 10 states: Arizona, California, Illinois, Maine, Massachu-setts, Minnesota, Nevada, New Mexico, New York, and West Virginia.
"We know that one in three American women say they have suffered violence at the hands of a spouse or a significant other," notes Andrea Linskey, executive director of corporate communications at Verizon Wireless, and a guiding force behind its community service program on domestic violence. "If this is true, women throughout any organization may be suffering, making domestic violence a bottom-line business issue. It impacts companies in terms of lost productivity, sick leave, and health care costs. What we also know is that in many instances when abused women leave an unhealthy domestic situation, one of the places a guy will continue to harass them is the workplace."
According to a 1998 Commonwealth Fund survey, 37% of women who experienced domestic violence report that the abuse had an impact on their work performance in the form of lateness, missed work, keeping a job, or career promotions. Health care costs associated with family violence are estimated in the hundreds of millions of dollars each year, much of which is paid by the employer. (For more statistics on domestic violence, see the box on p. 87.)
Putting the initiative together
The FVPF has been working with large employers for a number of years, developing policies on domestic violence; helping train supervisors to spot possible victims; assisting employees who were victims of domestic violence; enhancing awareness about public education programs that could be offered in the workplace; and even training security officers about appropriate responses when an employee has placed a restraining order on a spouse or a partner. "Given that domestic violence has such an impact on the bottom line on productivity and safety, we thought we should get employers involved," notes Soler. "We had a few model corporations and government agencies and small businesses working with us, but what we didn’t have was an initiative that was either systematic or widespread."
That’s where the Hitachi Foundation came in. "The FVPF responded to our August 1998 request for proposals," recalls Barbara Dyer, foundation president, "and we made the grant in 1999. Our interest was in the internal role businesses could play in improving [the] quality of life.
"Here, we had a program looking at questions of domestic violence in terms of the benefits to business of investing in support for domestic violence — dealing with the challenges and helping victims remain productive members of the company," she continues. "It raises a lot of broader issues; for example, we talk about family-friendly’ workplaces. This particular project begins to stretch the boundaries of that concept. What does it take — what investment choices can businesses make — to reduce the potential for losing workers and keeping them productive? We found that really intriguing."
The Hitachi grant is for $200,000 over two years. "Our ultimate objective is to improve the quality of life for underserved people, and particularly to explore the role of business toward that end," says Dyer. "Business is the third leg of a stool, along with nonprofit organizations and government, that can accomplish this. Particularly given this economy, with its very low unemployment rate, the role of business in its response to underserved people becomes increasingly important — because the labor force is so critically important."
With the grant in hand, Soler’s organization is now moving "to get more corporations involved, engaged, and excited. We have worked with Veri-zon and Blue Shield, Liz Claiborne, Marshall’s, The Limited . . . but that’s certainly not all of corporate America.’"
In each of the 10 designated states, the CCI’s leadership teams will link business, government, and labor leaders, victim advocates, and state domestic coalitions to create statewide action plans and model programs on domestic violence in the workplace. "Everything we do is done in partnership with a variety of different groups; we have worked with people in the corporate sector, human resource professionals, lawyers, community activists — and in many different types of workplaces," notes Soler.
The key word here is "different." Although statewide plans and model workplace programs will be created, Soler is keenly aware of the different needs that exist at various workplaces. "Some work has already been done by other organizations that will help us develop a best-practices model," she says. "For example, Massachusetts and Nevada have done much significant work already, but they will be different than other states. Polaroid is different than Aetna, which is different than Marshall’s, and so on. This reflects the different corporate cultures. Some companies have separate domestic violence policies; some integrate them into overall personnel policies. So, each corporation will have its own version of the standard’ model."
Reaching victims earlier
One of the program’s major goals, says Soler, is to reach people much earlier in the violence cycle. "Today, you are much more likely to reach them when the situation has reached the justice system, or when the woman enters a shelter," she explains. "If we are successful in getting our messages out in the workplace, where people are in contact with potential helpers at all times, we can reach them before they have an intractable problem."
The programs will serve to educate employees about domestic violence, inform them about various resources, promote increased on-site security, encourage employers to give employees time off to go to court, meet with counselors, and so forth.
"Our goal is education, as well as real services for people who are in big trouble," Soler explains. "We want to make the workplace safer. When domestic violence spills over, it can hurt the workplace. We must pay better attention to harassing, stalking, inappropriate phone calls. It’s the employer’s responsibility to say these are significant problems. We want healthy employees, and these employees are not in a healthy environment if they are threatened by domestic violence.
"These employees are all members of our community," she continues. "If their kid grows up in an environment of violence and goes to school with my kid, mine may be in danger."
There will be nothing esoteric about CCI’s programs, Soler adds. "We’ll use billboards, posters, training manuals, and good, hard conversation; it’s not magic," she asserts.
No need to reinvent the wheel
Having worked with several companies in the past, CCI will have a significant number of success stories upon which to draw. Verizon, for example, has been one of the pioneers in this area, working with FVPF since 1995.
"We initially brought our technology to social services organizations," recalls Linskey. "We provided voice mailboxes to shelters, for women needing help finding housing, day care, and so on." This evolved into an initiative called "Wireless at Work," which also provides those women with donated wireless phones. "Women with restraining orders need assistance even to go about their daily routines, like walking to work," notes Linskey. "These phones give them a sense of security. We even have anecdotes of women hiding under a kitchen table and calling 911 on their wireless."
To Linskey, the relationship with FVPF is truly symbiotic. While Verizon had technological advantages, "we realized we didn’t have the [educational] resources to address the issue in our work site. The FVPF is a nationwide organization, and very reputable."
Over the years, Verizon has consistently made donations to the fund for their workplace resources center — not for what they receive, but because they believe in its mission. "Anybody can get the resources," Linskey explains. "We send money to make them available to other corporations. We’re trying to be a beacon for other companies to take this program in-house and make it part of their EAP." Resources provided by the fund include posters, tip cards, and in-house lunch-and-learn seminars presented by experts from local shelters.
Simple but effective
Like Soler, Linskey recognizes that some of the simplest strategies can be the most effective. "Our EAP does things like putting pamphlets on bathroom stall doors," she notes. "Employees are more likely to take information in a private setting than from a mailbox."
The plan for the nationwide program is to at least have a "road map" ready by October, says Linskey. "This will lay out the direction in which everyone should go," she says. "Hopefully, by that time we will have solicited many more corporations in the 10 states to join CCI."
How can wellness professionals get involved? "If they are really serious, they can call or e-mail us through our Web site," says Soler. "We will work with a corporation even if their state is not currently part of the initiative."
• Esta Soler, Family Violence Prevention Fund, 383 Rhode Island St., Suite 304, San Francisco, CA 94103-5133. Telephone: (415) 252-8900. Fax: (415) 252-8991. Web site: www.fvpf.org.
• Andrea Linskey, Verizon Wireless. Telephone: (908) 306-7000. E-mail: email@example.com.