Maryland to adopt plan to help combat domestic violence

`Zero tolerance' policy targets acts committed in government workplaces

October 01, 1999|By Michael Dresser | Michael Dresser,SUN STAFF

Maryland will adopt today a sweeping new "zero tolerance" policy on domestic violence in government workplaces, including a requirement that all 60,000 state employees attend a course on abusive relationships.

Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend will announce the policy, based on an executive order issued by Gov. Parris N. Glendening last year, at a State House news conference today.

Under the policy, the state will prosecute or take disciplinary action against anyone who commits an act of domestic violence in a state government workplace. Any state employee who uses work time or a state communications device to harass a domestic violence victim could be fired.

Michaele Cohen, executive director of the Maryland Network Against Domestic Violence, said the training sessions will be designed to help people identify signs of domestic violence and how to respond in such cases.

Supervisors will receive additional training in how to deal with victims and suspected abusers, including how to respond to violent incidents in the workplace.

"We believe that Maryland is the first to do this statewide," Cohen said. She said the policy has gone through the collective bargaining process and state employee unions agree with it.

Chuck Porcari, a spokesman for Townsend, said the state would begin to train instructors in December and they should be in each state agency by next June.

The policy also sets forth certain "responsibilities" for state workers who are victims or perpetrators of domestic violence. Perpetrators are required to receive counseling through the state's Employee Assistance Program. Victims are required to inform supervisors if they are absent because of domestic violence.

Attorney General J. Joseph Curran, co-chairman of the state Family Violence Council with Townsend, said Maryland is hoping to set an example for private employers. He added that he will try to promote the policy nationwide through the National Association of Attorneys General.

Curran said taxpayers and employers pay a heavy cost for abuse in the home. "Because of domestic violence, there's absenteeism. There's increased health care costs and decreased productivity," he said.

Among those attending the announcement tomorrow will be Penni Miller, a Department of Budget and Management employee who credits the sensitive reaction of co-workers with helping her escape a long pattern of abuse by her second husband.

Miller said she knows many abuse victims in state agencies. She said since she became involved in the anti-domestic violence effort, five women from her department have told her they had been in such relationships.

Co-workers who know the signs of domestic violence can often encourage victims to seek help, Miller said. Among those signs are frequent injuries, missed work time, heavy make-up over injuries and phone calls that leave the employee upset.

Miller said that had she not received support in the workplace, "I think I'd be dead."

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