A new study that explores the impacts of domestic violence on employees' productivity and morale has inspired more than 40 local businesses to begin establishing formal domestic violence policies.
The study, a collaboration between the Chittenden County Safe at Work Network, Church Street Marketplace and a research methods class at Saint Michael's College, surveyed 85 businesses representing more than 9,000 employees. The partnership followed guidelines from the Governor's Task Force on the Prevention of Domestic and Sexual Violence.
Nearly one in four employers reported experience with domestic violence in the past three years, while only 18 percent already have a formal domestic violence policy in place, the survey shows.
According to Janice Santiago, employment advocate at Women Helping Battered Women and coordinator at the Safe At Work Network, domestic violence can take its toll on a victim's performance at work.
"They could come to work late, they could need to leave work early," Santiago says, adding that violence doesn't affect just the victim.
"It affects the workplace drastically. The morale, and emotional toll that it takes on co-workers of someone who's harmed because of it," she says. "Think about if you have a project and you have an employee work on a project that's worth millions to your company, and the person that's in charge of that is a victim all of the sudden, and they can't be there. Think about all the intellectual loss."
None of the businesses surveyed believed that an employer should refuse victims of domestic violence special accommodations — allowing an employee to have a more flexible working schedule, for example — and 80 percent said they believed intervention was appropriate when an employee was subject to some form of domestic violence.
But only 18 percent already have a formal policy in place. Organizers say they're encouraged that a majority of the survey participants — 61 percent, or 46 businesses — say they're interested in establishing policies to help them address domestic violence issues in the future.
"What we collected was very significant," Eilertsen says. "Hopefully [now] we can see some real change."
Ron Redmond, executive director of Church Street Marketplace, says part of the reason so few businesses have existing policies is that there's a tendency to shy away from the topic.
"It is an uncomfortable subject," Redmond says. "But we've got to start somewhere. I have a lot of hope that this will start the conversation and get businesses thinking about it, talking about it."
The Safe at Work Network was established in 2013, and there are already 10 businesses participating. This survey was inspired by research conducted in Alberta, Canada, as well as a similar initiative in Massachusetts.
Janice Santiago says the ultimate goal is to protect victims of domestic violence from losing their jobs and becoming victims of unemployment and poverty.
"I'm hoping that the big thing out of this is that employers will call us before they fire someone," she says.
Santiago also has her eye on bigger policy changes that could protect victims of domestic violence from losing their jobs in the first place.