Employers need tools to combat domestic violence

Linda Davies, right, executive director of the Domestic Violence Center of Santa Clarita gives information to the 25 attendees at the Work-Place Toolkit: What You Can Do seminar during the Domestic Violence Summit held at College of the Canyons in Valencia on Friday. Dan Watson/For The Signal

More than ten million Americans, mostly women, are abused by an intimate partner each year, and more than 20,000 calls are placed to domestic violence hotlines every day.

More than half of battered women who are employed are harassed at work by their abusive partners, and lost productivity due to domestic violence amounts to more than a billion dollars a year.

“Batterers don’t want their spouses to work,” said Linda Davies, executive director of the Santa Clarita Valley Domestic Violence Center, speaking yesterday at The Signal’s second annual Domestic Violence Summit, held at College of the Canyons. “It’s a matter of control and intimidation.”

Davies and DVC program director Krysta Warfield led a session at the summit to help equip employers with the tools they need to identify cases of domestic violence and offer necessary support to its victims.

The stakes are high, as 24 percent of workplace violence is related to personal relationships, leading to lost work time and productivity, medical costs, and potential liability.

“Workplace education can help the victim know there is support and understanding, and that protection can be provided,” Davies said. “It’s not easy, because sometimes the victim isn’t ready to seek help.”

But knowing that an employer is ready to listen and help without judgment can be critical in breaking the cycle of violence, she added.

Employers need to follow the three R’s when confronting domestic violence: recognize, respond and refer.

The first step is to recognize the survivor’s situation, by being aware of what’s happening at the workplace. This frequently includes stalking and threats. Davies cited one case in which the batterer called his spouse’s job more than 400 times in one day.

Even when abuse takes place away from the job, it can affect how safe workers feel on the job, change their work performance, and create physical and mental health issues.

Once domestic violence is recognized, responses include assessing the risks and needs of both the victim and other employees.

State law under Labor Code 230 requires employers to make reasonable safety accommodations to abused employees, based on individual needs, but without causing “undue hardship” on the employer.

This includes knowing about any protection orders, whether the perpetrator is armed, possibly changing an employee’s email address and phone extension, moving an employee to a less exposed workstation, documenting harassment or violence that takes place in the workplace, and referring the affected employee to a victim assistance group.

“Nearly one in three women in America report that they’ve been the victim of violence or sexual assault committed by a husband or boyfriend,” Davies said. “This is so prevalent that we know most employers are going to deal with it at some point. You may already have a survivor or a perpetrator in your workforce.”

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