Over the past two decades, the American workplace has changed dramatically. Until fairly recently, it has been a place that focused almost exclusively on "getting the job done," where workers were expected to leave their problems and personal lives at home -- or risk losing their jobs.

More and more, employers today recognize that personal, "real life" problems affect job performance, and job performance affects the bottom line. Because of this change, employers now routinely offer employees a full spectrum of assistance programs to help them deal with issues such as drug addiction, family problems and AIDS -- finding that doing so is ultimately more cost-effective than leaving employees to solve these problems on their own. Increasingly, employers across the U.S. are addressing domestic violence by implementing programs and policies that respond to and help prevent abuse and treat it as a preventable health problem and bottom-line business issue.

Business should respond to domestic violence in its own enlightened self-interest, and it should do so in a businesslike way. By working to mitigate the economic, legal, and productivity risks related to domestic violence, a business will also create a workplace that is safer for victims, and will send a powerful message to society that responding to domestic violence is "good business".


Domestic violence is a pattern of assaults and controlling behaviors, including physical, sexual, and psychological attacks and economic control, that adults and adolescents use against their intimate partners. Domestic violence is lethal, common, and affects people of all cultures, religions, ages, sexual orientations, educational backgrounds and income levels. The overwhelming majority of adult domestic violence victims are women, and perpetrators are men. Nearly one-third of American women (31 percent) report being physically or sexually abused by a husband or boyfriend at some point in their lives, according to a 1998 Commonwealth Fund survey.1 On average, more than three women are murdered by their husbands or boyfriends in this country every day. In 1998, approximately 1,830 murders were attributed to intimates; nearly three out of four of the murder victims (1,320 total) were women.2 In a company that is mid- to large-sized, it is a certainty that employees are personally affected by domestic violence.


Domestic violence doesn't stay at home when women go to work. Domestic violence often becomes workplace violence. It is crucial that domestic abuse be seen as a serious, recognizable, and preventable problem like thousands of other workplace health and safety issues that affect a business and its bottom line.


While some employers may feel that domestic violence is "too controversial" to address, corporate America has dealt with difficult issues before, such as AIDS, for example, and can do so with domestic violence. In fact:


Domestic violence affects productivity, and increases absenteeism.


Many employers offer health care benefits to their employees. Not surprisingly, this is another arena where domestic violence has an impact on a company's bottom line.


Employers are more concerned today about violence in the workplace than they were 20 years ago, as news stories of workplace shootings, often related to domestic violence, become increasingly common. They are right to be concerned: victims of domestic violence may be especially vulnerable while they are at work. The lethality of domestic violence often increases at times when the batterer believes that the victim has left the relationship. Once a woman attempts to leave an abusive partner, the workplace can become the only place the assailant can locate and harm her.


Aside from the safety, ethical and bottom-line incentives to employers in developing positive policies regarding employees facing domestic violence, there are liability issues to consider. Domestic violence may raise legal issues in various circumstances. A batterer may stalk or assault his partner or others in the workplace. Or, abuse may occur between two co-workers in a dating or marital relationship.

Several laws may apply:

These are not marginal business concerns -- public perceptions, productivity, costs, safety, and liability lie at the core of many vital corporate interests. They are, in fact, exactly the areas that any prudent leader will take into account when considering any issue that affects employees and the workplace.


Domestic violence is an important business issue that cannot be ignored. The workplace is where many women facing domestic violence spend at least eight hours a day. It's an ideal place for them to get help and support. Domestic abuse affects employee health and well-being, productivity, benefits costs and risk to the employer. When employers face domestic violence as it affects the workplace they have the power to save money -- and save lives.
1 The Commonwealth Fund, Health Concerns Across a Womans Lifespan: 1998 Survey of Womens Health, May 1999
2 U.S. Department of Justice, Intimate Partner Violence, May 2000
3 Roper Starch Worldwide study for Liz Claiborne, Inc., 1994
4 As cited in Personnel Journal, April, 1995 page 65.
5 EDK Associates, "The Many Faces of Domestic Violence and its Impact on the Workplace," New York: Author, 1977: 2-4.
6 Roper Starch Worldwide study for Liz Claiborne, Inc., 1994
7 Pennsylvania Blue Shield Institute, Social Problems and Rising Health Care Costs in Pennsylvania, pp. 3-5, 1992.
8 Roper Starch Worldwide study for Liz Claiborne, Inc., 1994
9 National Safe Workplace Institute survey, as cited in "Talking Frankly About Domestic Violence," Personnel Journal, April, 1995, page 64