November 3, 2003

Domestic abuse affects job, too

By Jodie Snyder
Arizona Republic

Her husband repeatedly hit her in the head, and she knew there was only one person she could go to about the abuse: her boss.

For his battered employee, Preston McMurray of McMurray Publishing went above and beyond to help. He rented an apartment for her and her children. Her co-workers offered support and even escorted her ex out of the office when he showed up to harass her.

McMurray is an extreme example, but more employers are addressing domestic violence as they learn its true costs.

Employer might be able to help

If you are the victim of domestic violence, these are some precautions you should take:

  • Tell your employer.
  • Give the workplace security department a photo of the abuser.
  • Screen your phone calls.
  • Have an escort take you to your car or the bus stop.
  • Vary your route home.
  • Consider carrying a cell phone.
  • Carry a noisemaker or personal alarm.
  • Know the phone number of a local battered women's shelter.

Source: Maricopa (Phoenix area) Association of Governments

The Bureau of National Affairs, which monitors workplace trends, estimates that domestic violence costs $3 billion to $5 billion annually in security, productivity, turnover, healthcare expenditures and absenteeism.

Every time the receptionist gets harassing calls from her former boyfriend, it costs the company. Or when the accountant has to spend time in court for an order of protection. Or when the salesman's ex-wife accosts him in the parking lot.

In response, employers from Philip Morris to Liz Claiborne are joining together to raise awareness and establish corporate policies.

Most employers know federal laws require a safe workplace, but there are still lessons to be learned, said Leah Meyers of the Arizona Coalition Against Domestic Violence. "I usually get an 'aha' moment from someone," Meyers said.

A classic case: A woman receives repeated harassing phone calls from a former boyfriend. Her boss tells her the calls have to end.

"This is something the woman has no control over. And if you fire her, it's not going to affect his behavior. It only helps isolate her, and he wins," Meyers said.

"It's not all about broken bones and bruises. It's about using isolation and demeaning phrases and emotional abuse."

McMurray Publishing's domestic-abuse policy comes from its founder's firsthand experiences. Preston McMurray's wife was a victim of child abuse, and that led him to create a nonprofit program, Theresa's Fund, to help with abuse issues. For 13 years, McMurray has donated 10 percent of his company's profits about $17 million to the cause.

McMurray will pay employees facing domestic abuse while they take time off, and cover medical and other expenses. The company also has rented an apartment to be used as a temporary sanctuary.

"It is the right thing to do. I live a nice lifestyle and could not do it without these people," McMurray said. "What could be clearer than that?"

McMurray's policies were a godsend for one employee, who wants to remain anonymous because of fear of retaliation from her former partner.

She had been with her abuser for a few years. At first, there was no made-for-TV drama. Only small everyday acts. Meanness. Controlling behavior. Inexplicable bursts of anger. Then he started slapping her.

McMurray referred her to a domestic-violence shelter. "When I first went there, I felt like I didn't belong there," she said. "I never had a black eye."

Then, three weeks later, the man struck her in the face in front of her family. She moved to the McMurray apartment. She felt safe there even as her ex staked out the homes and workplaces of her family. She felt safe there even when he called her at work and threatened to kill her.

"I'd get all these calls. At most places you would get fired for that," she said.

Instead, McMurray rerouted her phones so he couldn't reach her.

"I think it was in God's hands that I went to work there," she said.