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Marquett Smith: Domestic violence doesn’t stay home

Every year, October marks a month-long awareness campaign, led primarily by advocates and survivors, on the impact of domestic violence on families, communities and workplaces. This year, both fortunately and unfortunately, domestic violence has captivated our attention for weeks on end: We are recognizing that domestic violence is a scourge that affects many including professional athletes, celebrities, elected officials, working Americans, senior citizens, employers, colleagues, neighbors and loved ones. It is a societal problem that requires a nationwide plan of action.

Because domestic violence often begins at home, American businesses have tended to view the issue as a personal rather than a workplace problem. But one thing is clear: Domestic violence doesn’t stay home when its victims go to work.

Incidence reports indicate that violent partners often follow victims to their place of work or harass them on the job, with repeated, threatening phone calls or a disruptive series of emails. Fear, worry, and anxiety can create serious emotional stress, resulting in sleep deprivation, tardiness, impaired job performance and missed workdays. Co-workers may fear for their own safety as well as the victim’s, which can result in additional lost productivity and performance.

Despite these risks and concerns, many businesses do not have workplace violence policies that specifically address domestic violence. But a burying-your-head-in-the-sand mentality can only perpetuate a potential crisis that can affect an entire organization, its partners, customers and constituents, not to mention its employees, their families and loved ones.

Domestic violence is real, and the statistics are startling. With more than 30 percent of American women reporting being physically or sexually abused at some point in their lives, it is a certainty that in a mid-to-large sized company, domestic violence is affecting employees, and the costs are borne by the business.

So, what can a business do to address domestic violence?

1. Address the issue head-on by putting it front and center where it can’t be ignored. Our company has domestic violence prevention posters and other materials prominently displayed in cafeterias, break rooms and restrooms. Every new hire, and every existing employee each year, is asked to sign and uphold our Code of Business Conduct which has a section on workplace and domestic violence. We distribute frequent communications, host Crowd-Around sessions and Town Halls to share information on referrals and resources. We invite outside experts to our workplaces to lead discussion sessions for employees. We provide paid time-off for employee volunteerism at local shelters and matching grants to encourage financial support, increased awareness, and activism.

2. Empower managers to help safeguard employees who might be victims of domestic violence. As a supervisor or manager, it is not acceptable to say, “That’s a personal problem” or “There’s nothing I can do.” From changing an employee’s shift, to cutting back hours, to allowing a leave of absence, to arranging for a security guard to walk an employee to his or her car, to relocation, there’s a great deal we can do to keep employees safe.

3. Have a plan in place for handling domestic violence incidents that infiltrate your workplace. Businesses spend so much time doing projections and analysis, why not have a crisis plan for dealing with workplace violence. What do you do when an abusive spouse shows up on the job? Who gets called? What’s the procedure? These are questions that are not being asked often enough.

October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month, and the opportune time to shine a light on the issue, create awareness in your workplace and community, and establish protective and progressive policies to address and eradicate this societal ill.

Marquett Smith is the regional president for Verizon Wireless’ Maryland, D.C., and Virginia Region. Since 1995, Verizon has donated more than 180,000 phones with wireless minutes and text messaging service through its HopeLine project, as well as more than $77 million to domestic violence prevention organizations throughout the U.S.