Workzone: Firms lack sound policies to fight domestic violence

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Pam Paziotopoulos specialized in domestic violence as a prosecutor in the Cook County, Ill., state's attorney's office for years and traveled the United States to research best practices in handling such cases.

But it wasn't until one of her staff lawyers showed up at the state's attorney's office in Chicago after being beaten by her husband that Ms. Paziotopoulos became aware that domestic violence can have a major impact on the workplace.

"I got her to a safe place. That's when I realized there were 'employed' domestic violence victims who weren't telling anyone" for fear of discrimination by management or their colleagues, said Ms. Paziotopoulos.

Security experts estimate that "intimate partner" violence costs companies from $3 billion to $5 billion annually in lost productivity, absenteeism and increased health care costs.

But many organizations don't have sound policies in place to help prevent it from happening to their employees.

"In my experience, directors of security are passionate about it but get stuck convincing upper management that a program or policy is needed," Ms. Paziotopoulos said.

She was among the speakers at a seminar on workplace violence held last month at The Rivers Club, Downtown, and sponsored by AlliedBarton Security Services.

According to a May 2011 survey by AlliedBarton that polled 1,030 adults working outside the home, 52 percent either witnessed, heard about or experienced a violent event or an event that could lead to violence at their workplace. Also, 28 percent said they had experienced such an event at their current work site.

Among the events that survey respondents mentioned that can lead to physical violence are open hostility, bullying, abusive language and threats.

Managers and colleagues can look for some warning signs that an employee is a victim and that the perpetrator could strike the workplace, Ms. Paziotopoulos said. For instance, if the employee is frequently absent, receives disruptive phone calls and visits from a domestic partner, or wears turtlenecks or other clothing -- even in warm weather -- that can hide bruises and cuts.

While nearly 90 percent of respondents in the AlliedBarton survey said a safe workplace is the responsibility of all employees, the same respondents believed that fewer than 44 percent of senior managers are concerned with workplace violence.

"Managers have to be onboard" with establishing policies on the issue, Ms. Paziotopoulos said.

"No one is asking you to be social workers or victims' therapists" but companies should establish a workplace safety plan with options such as changing the victim's work phone number or office location, monitoring parking arrangements and training the staff on how to handle potential violent situations and how to notify law enforcement agencies.

Companies should establish threat assessment teams that could "think of creative ways for employees to divulge problems without fear of discrimination," she said.

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Joyce Gannon: or 412-263-1580.


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