Why Domestic Violence Is A Workplace Issue

Devin P. Kelley had a long and troubled history of violence and abuse before he walked up to the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Tex. and began an assault that killed at least 26 people.

According to the New York Times, Kelley “repeatedly struck, kicked and choked his first wife beginning just months into their marriage, and hit his stepson’s head with what the Air Force described as ‘a force likely to produce death or grievous bodily harm.’” That was 2012. He was imprisoned for his crime. In later years, he abused his second wife and hurt their dog, for which he was charged with cruelty to animals. He sent threatening texts. He bought weapons. People knew him to be … off.

More than 12 million people will be hurt, harassed, stalked or raped by a partner this year. One in every four women and one in 10 men will experience domestic violence in their lifetime, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Up to 50 percent of transgender people will experience intimate partner violence in their lifetime. And this recent report, also from the CDC, found that nearly half of all women who are murdered in the U.S. are killed by domestic partners.

That’s a public health problem.

But a history of domestic abuse and partner violence is so often present in mass shooters that it has become a pattern too disturbing to ignore.

It’s now a national security issue, as well.

“Time and time again, spasms of violence in public places have been followed by investigations into the attackers and suspects. Many of those probes have unearthed reports of violence or threatening behavior against women in their lives,” says Mark Berman in the Washington Post. He ticks through a number of recent perpetrators, all of them male, including James Alex Fields Jr., who drove his car through a group of activists in Charlottesville; James T. Hodgkinson, who opened fire on Republican members of Congress at a softball practice; and Robert Lewis Dear who opened fire at a Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood clinic.

Let’s widen the lens to make it a workplace issue, too.

The total costs to the US economy of intimate violence – including medical care, mental health services, and time away from work exceed $8 billion a year. The figure for lost productivity alone is some $727.8 million. That’s 8 million paid work days lost each year.

And some 65 percent of companies don’t have a formal workplace domestic violence policy, according to research conducted by the Society for Human Resource Management.

Victims have a wide variety of practical needs. They may need time away from work for legal, financial or psychological counseling – which they may not be able to afford. They may need time for court dates, and for meetings with teachers or other caregivers. They may be injured or traumatized and need time to recover. They may be having trouble focusing at work, particularly on stretch assignments. And because domestic violence can be deeply humiliating, it may be difficult for them to tell people around them what they need. They may not even know themselves.

And the perpetrators often harass them at work. One study from the Maine Department of Labor found that “78 percent of surveyed perpetrators used workplace resources at least once to express remorse or anger toward, check up on, pressure, or threaten their victim; 74 percent had easy access to their intimate partner’s workplace; and 21 percent reported that they had contacted their victim at the workplace in violation of a no-contact order.”

These are not easy issues to address. In Australia, one issue being debated is paid domestic violence leave, which would allow victims to take time off to get themselves to safety. While it may not make it into law this year – or at all – the policy is already being adopted by some employers. According to Australian government statistics, on average, one woman is killed every week as a result of intimate partner violence.

It’s also worth mentioning that perpetrators typically draw a check from somewhere. What does a zero-tolerance policy look like in your organization? What does it say about our culture when our sports heroes are attacked for protesting violence but rewarded despite committing it?

If intimate partner violence is not currently part of your inclusion plans, it needs to be.

I grew up in a violent home, so I know how horrifying it is when the person who is supposed to love and protect you is the one hurting you. But this is now everyone’s issue, made more urgent because it’s so difficult to discuss.

If the current momentum around the #MeToo revelations is really a sign of a different time, then let it also be the time to address the personal violence that derails the lives of victims, families, communities, companies – and left unchecked, perpetrators as well.

Here are some resources to get you started.

The Corporate Alliance to End Partner Violence

Steps To End Domestic Violence

When Domestic Violence Comes To Work, from the Society for Human Resource Management

The American Bar Association’s Model Workplace Policy on Employer Response to Domestic Violence



Ellen McGirt is a senior editor and writes Fortune’s raceAhead, a daily newsletter about race and culture.

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