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Domestic Violence and the Workplace

Incidents of domestic violence can surge over the holidays in line with increased alcohol consumption, money worries, and other stresses -- and employers that ignore the problem could place the safety of their employees and workplace at risk, according to the Better Business Bureau.

Studies have shown that billions of dollars are lost each year in health-care costs due to domestic violence. In addition, 96% of domestic-violence victims experience problems at work related to abuse, and 30% lose their jobs, in part due to domestic violence. Victims of domestic violence may be stalked by their batterers at work, call in sick due to injuries, or need time off to obtain legal relief.

The good news is that there are effective ways entrepreneurs can support employees who are survivors of domestic violence -- ways that will also increase productivity and safety, and do so at little cost. The BBB recommends that employers adopt and spell out policies for coping with issues related to domestic violence.

SYMPATHY AND COUNSEL. Encouraging workers to look to the employer for help can provide an opportunity to keep the workplace safe and minimize productivity losses. Employers can also provide security officials and reception staff with clear instructions outlining what they need to do if a stalker or perpetrator of domestic violence gravitates to the victim's workplace. Appropriate training in issues relating to as safety and confidentiality can be provided to a designated employee, who can then take responsibility for responding to domestic violence issues in the workplace.

For more information, check with the Commission on Domestic Violence, an arm of the American Bar Assn. Their Web site offers online tips for employers and a publication including guidelines for employers who must deal with the issue of domestic violence spilling over into the workplace. By Karen E. Klein in Los Angeles

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