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Giving With Confidence

Domestic Violence in the Workplace:
What Can Companies Do?

By Robert Hirshon, American Bar Association President, and Laura Stein, H. J. Heinz Company General Counsel and Chair, ABA Commission on Domestic Violence

October is National Domestic Violence Awareness Month, a good time for all of us to remember those who suffer violence in their homes every day. As many as four million Americans are victims of domestic violence each year, most of them female, of every race, every age, and every socioeconomic background. Violence doesn't always stay at home. Abusers stalk, harass, threaten or injure victims as they work. For victims, domestic violence is an ever-present reality, hurting not only themselves, but also those with whom they associate: their children, their parents, their friends and, potentially, their co-workers and business partners.

Though employers may not immediately realize the cost of domestic violence in the workplace, it can manifest in insidious ways. A domestic violence incident at work affects employee morale and can result in property damage, and even worse, employee injury. Domestic violence victims may suffer productivity loss and other problems. In short, a company's bottom line can be affected by domestic violence.

Businesses can prepare themselves against the negative consequences of domestic violence and provide support to their employees. A Guide to Employers: Domestic Violence in the Workplace, a publication by the American Bar Association Commission on Domestic Violence, provides guidelines - a business plan - for domestic violence. Its "Steps to Safety" emphasize learning what issues are associated with domestic violence and then adopting preventive actions and procedures and providing support to affected employees.

H. J. Heinz Company is one of many U.S. companies that have used the ABA Guide to develop ways to address domestic violence in the workplace.

For National Domestic Violence Awareness Month, the ABA Commission on Domestic Violence has developed a "top 10" list of things companies can do to support awareness of domestic violence. Companies can address this critical issued by doing any one - or all - of the following:

  1. Make the ABA "Steps to Safety" planning sheet available to your employees in your cafeterias, lounges and restrooms. (Call the ABA Service Center at 1.800.285.2221 or visit the website for copies.)
  2. Invite local domestic violence programs or law enforcement agencies to do a brown bag lunch session for employees to enhance awareness of domestic violence and the community resources available to respond to it.
  3. Contact the National Workplace Resource Center on Domestic Violence (1.800.END.ABUSE) or the National Domestic Violence Hotline (512.453.8117) for additional useful materials for employers, including educational posters that can be kept in general gathering areas.
  4. Train at least one employee about domestic violence and designate that employee as responsible for responding to domestic violence issues in the workplace such as safety and confidentiality.
  5. Provide security and reception staff with clear instructions outlining what their response to incidents of domestic violence should be, including how to call for emergency help, whom to notify within the company, and what to do if an employee has a protective order.
  6. Show the PBS documentary "Breaking the Silence: Journeys of Hope," underwritten by Mary Kay Inc. as a tool to raise awareness about domestic violence. Contact the ABA Division for Public Education and the Commission on Domestic Violence at or for more information or to obtain a copy of the video.
  7. Consider flexibility in employee benefits and policies for employees who are victims of domestic violence.
  8. Develop a domestic violence policy (visit the Family Violence Prevention Fund's website at for more information).
  9. Let your employees know about the needs and activities of local domestic violence shelters to offer victims in your communities more aid and support.
  10. Consider sponsoring an employee "volunteer afternoon" at your local domestic violence shelter assisting with tasks such as painting, gardening or cleaning and providing financial or in-kind donations such as office supplies, business clothes, children's books or drapes.

Any one of these steps can go a long way toward putting a program in place that can help create a safe, secure workplace for employees. For their sake, and the sake of your business, it's the right thing to do.

For information about getting a copy of the Employer's Guide for your workplace, and for a brochure on safety tips, go to or call 1.800.285.2221.

Thanks for helping to fight the "quiet crime" and making it clear to employees that your business will support victims of domestic violence.