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$1.4 million shared grant eyes violence, workplace

The effect of domestic violence on the workplace has been associated with significant human and organizational costs. The Bureau of National Affairs (1990) estimated that domestic violence costs American business $3 – 5 billion annually due to absenteeism, medical bills, employee turnover and lost productivity. And violence that originates at home and then spreads to workplace locations has been documented more and more in the past couple of decades.

A partnership between WSU Spokane and community institutions has been awarded a three-year, $1.4 million National Institutes of Health grant to develop programs to address this social phenomenon. WSU Spokane researchers will serve as the project leaders in collaboration with the Spokane County Domestic Violence Consortium, Associated Industries of Inland Northwest, Spokane County Sheriff’s Office and the Spokane Police Department.

The Spokane Workplace Domestic Violence Initiative will develop services for local businesses that include employee training, business policy development, and consultation and law enforcement supports when a domestic violence incident occurs.

Lead investigator Chris Blodgett, associate scientist and extension specialist in human development and director of WSU Spokane’s Child and Family Research Unit, points out that domestic violence is a systemic, community problem and its impact in the workplace is only one expression of a problem that challenges all aspects of the community.

“In domestic violence incidents, workplaces are one point of victimization in a chain of victimizing acts,” Blodgett said. “As a result, expecting businesses to handle this issue in isolation is ineffective.”

According to the Spokane County Domestic Violence Consortium, while efforts at reducing other forms of workplace violence have been shown to be effective, domestic violence impacting the workplace has not decreased and continues to affect not only the victim, but also the victim’s co-workers and the workplace in general. Additionally, very little data exists which allows researchers to measure this aspect of domestic violence.

The project is not an effort aimed at victim advocacy, but rather a method to allow employers and employees to identify domestic violence and to eliminate or minimize its influence on the workplace. The project will test a coordinated response from education and prevention, business, and law enforcement sectors of the community.

The Spokane County Domestic Violence Consortium and Associated Industries of the Inland Northwest will provide training, policy development, critical incident response and follow-up services, allowing employers to identify and appropriately address the effects of domestic violence in their workplace while remaining cognizant of the privacy and safety of all employees. WSU Spokane researchers will evaluate the services to businesses in a long-term research program.

In a national survey, EDK Associates (1997) reports that 37 percent of women who were domestic violence victims experienced work disruptions because of absenteeism and reduced productivity. But Blodgett believes that current crime-based estimates of domestic violence and the workplace significantly underestimate its prevalence.

Spokane Police Chief Roger Bragdon said calls for service involving domestic violence are the third highest category of all calls to his department; in 2001, the SPD received 4,532 such calls.

And Spokane County Sheriff Mark Sterk noted, “Having investigated more than 5,200 incidents last year, our deputies are very aware that the issue spills out of the home and becomes a workplace issue as well. We hope this grant will allow us to better educate employers about domestic violence and better enable them to identify employees at risk and to assist law enforcement in reducing that risk.”

While this program’s services are available only to members of Associated Industries, the consortium already has a domestic violence in the workplace program, and will assist any employer in the region needing help. Interested businesses should call the consortium at 487-6783.

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