Subject: Shooting puts focus on security for workers

By: Hedgpeth, Lynde

March 24, 2004 10:39 p.m.

ASHEVILLE - A burly security guard watched over workers at Olsten Staffing Services in Asheville on Wednesday, a day after a gunman invaded the company's small storefront branch in Arden.

      911 call 

In a collision of domestic and workplace violence, sheriff's deputies said Billy Ray Byrd, 32, walked into the office carrying a .22-caliber rifle, argued with his wife, and then shot her in the head. Sheriff's deputies have charged Byrd, who did not work at Olsten Staffing, with two counts of assault with a deadly weapon with intent to kill, one for causing serious injury. He was also charged with violating a domestic violence restraining order and assault by pointing a gun.

Carrie Byrd was in critical but stable condition Wednesday at Mission Hospitals.

For business owners such as Peggy Yarborough, who owns a furniture store in Asheville, the shooting shows the importance - and difficulty - of dealing with security and personal relationships in a small business.

"It's that check system of saying you just can't get too comfortable," Yarborough said. Her security checks include a guard who patrols her shopping center after dark. In the past, she had a silent alarm for employees who were threatened.

Asheville police Sgt. Daryl Fisher, who has studied domestic violence in Asheville, said employers' awareness of the problem can protect workers who are victims at home.

Carrie Byrd had a temporary restraining order against her husband, who she said had assaulted and verbally abused her.

Byrd's co-workers knew her husband and tried to stop him when he came in the business with a gun, said Julie Kepple, spokeswoman for the Buncombe County Sheriff's Department. Kepple said she did not know whether Byrd's co-workers knew about her allegations of domestic violence.

Victoria Mitchell, a spokeswoman for Olsten Staffing, said the company kept employees' security in mind when choosing office locations. They also provided counseling services through an employee assistance program, though Mitchell did not know whether Byrd used the program.

"Let me just say that this is a very unique situation," Mitchell said.

Fisher said domestic violence offenders rarely assault their victims at the victims' workplaces in Asheville. But the violence does not have to happen in the workplace to affect it.

One in six domestic violence victims report lost time from work, according to a 2003 report by the Centers for Disease Control. Each year, domestic violence victims miss an estimated 9.5 million days of work or other activity, the report stated.

Kathleen Schoen coordinates a program in Colorado called Make it Your Business, which combats the "it's-none-of-my- business" attitude of employers, urging them to advocate for, not ignore, employees who are domestic violence victims.

A 2002 study by Liz Claiborne Inc. found that 50 percent of the corporate leaders they surveyed said domestic violence had a harmful effect on their organization's insurance and medical costs, and one-third said their company's bottom-line performance had been damaged.

Studies also have shown that people who commit domestic violence use company resources to threaten or check up on their victims.
"It's your business when it affects your productivity," Schoen said. "It's your business when it affects your safety, not only of this employee (the victim) but of other employees."

Schoen's program recommends a three-step process for helping domestic violence victims: recognize, respond and refer.

Employers need not only to be able to recognize the signs of domestic violence, but also to create an environment in which workers feel like they can ask for help.

"The basic thing we try to emphasize is creating a culture where it is OK to talk about it," Schoen said.

Employers can respond to domestic violence by showing care and concern and creating a plan for how to protect the worker. Schoen recommended that employers get to know domestic violence workers and police officers ahead of time so they have someone to turn to when an employee needs help. Bosses have to realize they cannot solve domestic violence problems alone.

"We're not asking businesses to be social workers," Schoen said. Companies that provide an employee assistance program can refer workers there.

"I would say that it does perform a very . necessary service," Mitchell said.. "It's important in terms of people being able to perform their job and having a good work-life balance."

For small businesses that cannot provide benefits like an EAP, knowing community domestic violence resources and having a trusting work environment are critical. Yarborough, who owns Yesterday's Tree in south Asheville, said the women who work in her store are like family to each other.

"I do think in small businesses you find a great support system," Yarborough said.