EAPs and the Need to Foster the Domestic Violence Safety Net

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May 13, 2014

Everyone deserves a safety net and a safe haven, even at work, and especially if you’re part of the 24 percent of women and 12 percent of men who reported at least one lifetime episode of intimate-partner violence.

According to statistics gathered by the Corporate Alliance to End Partner Violence, the most comprehensive study of its kind, released in 2007, found that violence costs the United States $70 billion annually. Most of the $70 billion in costs associated with violence were from lost productivity ($64.4 billion), with the remaining $5.6 billion spent on medical care.

And think about this as well: The cost of domestic violence to the U.S. economy is more than $8.3 billion. This cost includes medical care, mental health services, and lost productivity (e.g., time away from work).

Flashback to the non-EAP world of 1972

Flashback to 1972 — there really weren’t any resources for my mother back then. She worked as a secretary for the local school district where I grew up, and every time my birth father beat her, she would wear clothing to cover the bruises and marks, constantly avoiding other’s stares and whispers, calling in sick quite a bit.

There were no domestic violence or workplace violence programs where she worked, no employee assistance programs offering counseling or shelter referrals, no assessment and action plans from human resources. She also kept it as much of a secret as she could from family and friends.

Don’t ask, don’t tell. The fear and shame that comes with abuse and intimate partner violence is overwhelming enough (intimate partner violence is another name for domestic violence) – you don’t want your employer to know for fear of losing your job. Employers don’t want to know for fear of potential violence in the workplace.

For my mother and countless others, continuous prayer and faith, support from others, and finally the personal strength to get out of the violence is what it took. Thankfully today there are so many more resources available and more and more companies have workplace violence, intimate partner violence programs, and/or EAPs (employee assistance programs).

EAP obstacles

In fact, according to EAP data from the Employee Assistance Trade Association (EASNA), “most researchers and industry experts now believe that there is enough solid evidence from high-quality research studies to ‘make the business case’ for providing greater access to mental health services in general and to workplace-based services in particular.”

This has been documented over the course of many EAP case studies and their outcomes (i.e., absence, productivity, health care costs, disability) that include companies such as Abbott Laboratories, America On Line (AOL), Campbell Soup, Chevron, Crestar Bank, Detroit Edison, DuPont, the LA City Department of Water & Power, Marsh & McLennan, McDonnell Douglas, NCR Corp, New York Telephone, Orange County (Florida), Southern California Edison, the U.S. Postal Service, and the U.S. (federal) government.

But consider these unfortunate EAP obstacles:

  • The most common reason women didn’t contact their EAP for intimate partner violence is that they didn’t think about it or didn’t think it was appropriate.
  • Employee utilization of intimate partner violence EAP services is very low.
  • The No. 1 concern of battered women before contacting an EAP is confidentiality — they’re afraid other employees will find out.
  • Most EAPs don’t have standardized evaluations or codes for intimate partner violence.

70% have no formal domestic violence program

And consider these unfortunate executive blinders:

  • A recent survey of CEOs found that most believe domestic violence to be a serious issue, yet 71 percent did not believe it is a problem in their company. (The reality is that approximately 21 percent of full-time working adults report being a victim of domestic violence.
  • Over 70 percent of U.S. workplaces have no formal program or policy that addresses workplace violence.
  • Of the approximately 30 percent that have formal workplace violence policies in place (usually binders on shelves gathering dust), only 13 percent have domestic violence in the workplace policies and only 4 percent provide training on domestic violence in the workplace (Bureau of Labor Statistics from 2006).

Yes, only 4 percent. Seems like one helluva short trip from 1972.

Although overall intimate partner violence in the workplace has declined somewhat, there’s still much work to be done even in 2014, and thankfully human resources, security professionals, EAPs and workplace violence non-profits have all made huge strides in working together to address intimate partner violence and workplace violence.

How HR can take the lead

HR can and should take the lead in providing these programs. Executive management should require these kinds of programs. We need to go:

  • From Safety Net — We’ve come a long way from 1972. With all the organizations like the Corporate Alliance to End Partner Violence and many others as well as EAPs, HR and leadership at all levels weaves the safety net for victims of intimate partner violence and other security threats in the workplace. In fact, if you haven’t seen the domestic violence documentary, Telling Amy’s Story, and how it impacts the workplace, and how companies can help prevent it, I highly recommend you buy it and share it with your organizations, friends and families.
  • To Safe Haven — Everyone deserves one, just as everyone deserves a voice and a support system. Family members, friends and colleagues usually hear first when someone they know is a domestic violence victim. Being supportive and acknowledging that it’s happening to them and that it’s not okay is a start. Ensuring that there’s a safe haven for them that provides assistance, whether from the national domestic violence hotline, a company EAP or a local domestic violence shelter or support group, is where we can all help.

For more information I recommend downloading Domestic Violence: Workplace Policies and Management Strategies. (This article about domestic violence and the workplace appears courtesy of the American Bar Association Commission on Domestic Violence. It was written by CAEPV Executive Director Kim Wells and Stacey Pastel Dougan, Esq.)

God bless you, Mom. You made it, and you are missed. Happy Mother’s Day.

This was originally published on Kevin Grossman’s Reach West blog.

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