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Guide aims to help abused women keep jobs

By Amanda Thomas
Associated Press Writer

MONTGOMERY — A bruised body and a broken spirit aren’t the only things that can result from being in an abusive relationship. Some victims are also at risk of getting a pink slip from their employer, forcing them to return home to their abusers where the cycle of abuse continues.

But the Alabama Coalition Against Domestic Violence hopes to prevent that from happening with the release of a guide designed to help employers protect abused women who are on their payroll. Alabama’s domestic violence rate is one of the highest in the nation. There were 27 domestic violence murders in 2005, according to the State of Alabama Statistical Analysis Center.

According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, at least 12 percent of homicides and violent crimes in Alabama are directly related to domestic violence. Homicide is the second leading cause of death for women on the job with 20 percent being murdered by their partners, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.

A coalition committee worked for two years to get the policy packet together, employing the ideas of 10 managers from a variety of fields.

“We think it’s unique to Alabama and can really give some good guidance to employers who want to do the right thing, but don’t necessarily know what the right thing is,” ACADV executive director Carol Gundlach said

More vulnerable

According to the guide, victims are more vulnerable at work because abusers know where to find them.

Gundlach believes anything the employer can do to increase the victim’s safety will not only increase productivity, but also may save her life.

“Employers need to realize that a safe employee is going to be a more productive employee,” Gundlach said.

One problem is when employers object to workers getting personal calls at work. Gundlach stressed that the employee can’t control her abuser’s behavior, and that telling the victim to have the abuser not call her at work is a nonstarter because she has no control in the relationship.

‘No power’

“A battered woman has no power to refuse his calls or change his behavior,” Gundlach said.

She pointed out that the abuser wants her fired so she can be more financially dependent on him.

The employer should instead work with the victim and local domestic violence programs to develop strategies to keep her safe.

These may include having someone else take calls from her abuser as well as having security walk her to and from her car so she can’t be attacked in the parking lot or in the building.

“They need to make sure security is alerted and let them know the batterer is not welcome at the job,” Gundlach said.

She believes it’s important for employers to develop a policy so employees know what to do if there is a threat of domestic violence in the workplace.

James Opp Smith, the domestic violence advocacy director at Legal Services Alabama and a member of the coalition committee, advises employers not to fire the victim.

‘Turning your back’

“Employers shouldn’t use terminating the employee as a way to solve the problem because it doesn’t solve the problem any more so than turning your back on a crime that’s being committed and pretending it isn’t happening,” Smith said.

He urged employers to look at the potential costs of terminating an employee and training a new hire. Morale issues among co-workers also should be taken into consideration.

“If they realize their colleague who is in trouble is being further victimized by the employer, it doesn’t send the message that the employer cares about the employees,” Smith said.

Bringing up problem

Another issue is the difficulty an abused woman has in bringing up her domestic problems.

“Victims are often embarrassed and ashamed about the situation,” said Johnny Lee, director of Peace at Work in Raleigh, N.C. “They don’t want their personal issues being water-cooler conversations.”

An abused woman also will not disclose her problems to an employer if she feels her job is at risk.

“If victims don’t feel safe in disclosing, the employer won’t know about it and won’t be able to take safety precautions,” Smith said.

“They generally want to know their disclosure will be treated with respect.”

Smith believes employers should adopt a policy making it clear to employees that they will deal responsibly and compassionately with victims of domestic violence.

‘Positively receptive’

“She needs to talk to the employer and she’s only going to do that if the employer is going to be positively receptive to her,” he said.

Although employers may want to help, they may not know where to turn.

“I think a lot of times employers just don’t know what to do,” Smith said. “This manual will give them the resources they can turn to.

“They need to know how to direct the victim to those who can help her with the problem.”

The employer can make referrals to local domestic violence programs who can link the victim with counseling.

“The primary thing is employers should view themselves as part of the solution,” Smith said.

Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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