THE BLOG
10/22/2014 06:15 pm ET Updated Dec 22, 2014

Not Just the NFL: How Employers Can Help Stop Domestic Violence

By now, we've all seen the video of Ray Rice knocking his fiancée out in an Atlantic City elevator. Seeing it stripped away the convenient excuses - "she hit him first" or "it wasn't that bad." There are many lessons to be learned from the public dialogue about this case: lessons about victim-blaming and accountability for batterers, and which party is more likely to receive the benefit of the doubt. But one important aspect of the case not often discussed publicly before the Rice tape hit the media is that of employer responsibility.

When we talk about domestic violence, it is easy to focus only on the physical forms of abuse. But at Safe Horizon, survivors tell us every day that the consequences of abuse go far beyond bruises and black eyes. At its heart, domestic violence is about power and control. Emotional and psychological abuse is often prominent. Financial abuse, also common, plays a key role in keeping victims trapped. In fact, financial dependence is the number one reason victims stay in abusive relationships.

This type of abuse can take many forms. Study after study has shown that abusive partners frequently harass and stalk their partners at work. At other times, they literally prevent the victim from going to work, or make threatening calls to the victim's boss or coworkers. Injuries, depression and anxiety resulting from abuse may cause victims to be late to or absent from work. Eventually, many survivors lose their jobs as a result. At the same time, abusive partners may drag their partner through a lengthy, expensive court battle over child custody or run up huge credit card bills in the victim's name. And too many victims find it necessary to leave their homes in order to find safety, adding still more expenses.

And it's not just survivors who pay the price. Researchers estimate that domestic violence costs the U.S. economy more than $8.3 billion every year in health care and lost productivity.

The good news is that employers can play an important role in ending the cycle of violence. As one in four women will experience domestic violence in her lifetime, almost all employers have employees who were or are victims of domestic violence. Every employer should develop company policies that address domestic violence in the workplace, establishing a clear code of conduct and encouraging those who have experienced abuse to reach out for assistance. Many jurisdictions now require employers to provide accommodations to victims, such as a change of schedule or time off to go to court, while others bar employment discrimination based on domestic violence.

Employers can partner with service providers like Safe Horizon to train management to recognize the warning signs of abuse, such as changes in job performance, injuries, uncharacteristic lateness or absenteeism. Leading companies like Verizon and Avon have found that these policies build staff morale, they improve workplace safety, and they're good for business. Most importantly, they are lifeline for survivors.

Domestic violence is learned behavior. When society looks away or treats it as a private matter, it reinforces the behavior. By taking a stand against abuse, employers can lead the way to a society free of domestic violence.