Congresswoman Elizabeth Esty’s response upon learning that her male Chief of Staff was in an intimate relationship with a female staff person whom he harassed and physically harmed was wrong and deeply disappointing as she failed to promptly hold the offender accountable and offer support to the victim. She has acknowledged the opportunity for her and all of us to do better. We could not agree more.
Domestic and sexual violence and stalking affects millions of American workers and must be taken seriously. Here in Connecticut, nearly 40,000 victims of domestic violence seek help from a domestic violence provider annually. A consistent concern for many victims is the impact that the abuse will have on their employment. This problem takes a significant physical, mental, and emotional toll on its victims. These effects easily impact their job, which many need to keep in order to maintain financial stability and achieve safety if they choose to leave.
Oxford resident Lori Jackson was just 32 when her life was tragically taken in her parent’s home by her estranged husband in May 2014. Lori was employed at the time by the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) as an Air Bureau Analyst. DEEP’s reaction to Lori’s circumstance is an example of how to do things right. Even prior to Lori’s murder, DEEP already had developed a threat assessment team to respond to workplace violence.
When Lori needed time off to go to court to apply for a restraining order, it was granted without hassle. When she fled with her young children to safe housing twice in the weeks leading up to the tragedy, a flexible work schedule made that possible. When Lori’s supervisor also received harassing calls from her husband, DEEP responded with support for her, not retribution.
While Lori feared for her safety, she never feared that she might lose her job.
As was the case for DEEP, employers may experience direct effects of the abuse suffered by their employees. Abusers pose risks to the company such as damaging company property, installing spyware on company computers and cell phones, or monopolizing phone lines with repeated calls to the victim or their colleagues.
With sixty percent of domestic violence survivors nationally reporting they lost their job and half indicating they were stalked at work, the need for workplace policy to react is critical. Because domestic violence poses unique issues for the workforce, it is incumbent upon employers to institute policy as part of a commitment to a safer and more supportive organizational climate.
There are private companies taking the lead like Bank of America (BOA), for example, which actually has a Domestic Violence Task Force to train employees and offer awareness. BOA will pay for relocation and guarantee an employee a job in another market, when they are victimized by domestic violence. More companies should follow BOA’s example and make support to victims a part of their culture as a solution to this insidious problem.
Workplace education and training to prevent violence and institutionalized policies and protocols to aid employees who are victims can be implemented by choice, not mandate. Equally important are measures which hold perpetrators of violence accountable through disciplinary action. These steps need to be taken in government, public, and private organizations.
The role of the employer in addressing domestic violence cannot be overstated. It makes sense not only from a human standpoint, but also from a business standpoint. We can all learn from what happened in Congresswoman Esty’s office. The implementation of policy is truly not complicated. Even better, it’s the right thing to do.
Merry Jackson is Lori Jackson’s mother and an advocate for improved policy and practice for domestic violence victims. Karen Jarmoc is the Chief Executive Officer of the Connecticut Coalition Against Domestic Violence.
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