House of Ruth hopes work with Ravens will prompt more domestic violence workplace policies

(Barbara Haddock Taylor…)
October 11, 2014|By Lorraine Mirabella | The Baltimore Sun

The panels on the stand-up display feature the words of a dozen women who survived domestic violence, telling why they stayed and how they left.

Growing out of a larger effort to tackle domestic abuse — or intimate partner violence — as an issue affecting health and safety in the workplace, Kaiser Permanente sends the display, featuring the stories of its employees, around to its medical centers.

The project aims to "to open up a conversation, to let employees and members know they're not the only one who may be experiencing domestic violence," said Ann Jordan, program manager for women's health at Kaiser, which offers domestic violence prevention programs to employees, including on-site services, referrals to community services such as shelters and training to recognize signs of abuse.

But such programs are unusual for most workplaces. In the Baltimore area, the House of Ruth of Maryland hopes that will change with the help of its recently forged partnership with the Baltimore Ravens in the wake of the Ray Rice scandal. The three-year partnership between the House of Ruth and the NFL team aims to raise awareness of domestic violence.

"Intimate partner violence is far more prevalent than many people understand," said Sandi Timmins, executive director of the Baltimore-based center for battered women. "You can almost guarantee that every workplace at some point will be affected by this, whether they are aware of it or not.

One in four women is likely to be in a physically abusive relationship at some point, Timmins said.

Rice's arrest and the subsequent video showing the former running back punching his then-fiancee in a casino elevator "clearly was something that caught the organization off guard" she said.

"They were not prepared with a defined path of actions."

Timmins hopes the spotlight on the Ravens' and the NFL's handling of the Rice case will be an impetus for all employers to adopt intimate partner violence policies.

Such policies should cover how the workplace responds to victims on matters such as leave and work performance, how it responds to employees who commit violence and how to respond to potential safety risks, such as an abuser coming to the workplace, Timmins said.

Currently, just over a third of organizations have policies covering domestic violence, according to a survey by the Society for Human Resource Management. Just one in five workplaces offer training on the issue. The group recommends that employers establish written policies on domestic violence, covering leave requests, providing victims access to information, extra security and time off when needed.

While most companies have rules to address substance abuse, attendance and workplace violence — which can include harassment and bullying as well as physical threats — "this is different in that the employee is a victim and the violence is not happening in the workplace necessarily," Timmins said.

She suggested adding to those existing policies, taking care to provide training.

"It's something that's very uncomfortable for supervisors and managers," she said. "The knee-jerk reaction is that something that happens in somebody's home and private life is not something the workplace should address."

But workplaces not only need to reach out because of the effect of their employees, but they ought to, Timmins said.

Incidents involving Rice and other NFL players are beginning to prompt employers to do just that, said Margaret Spence, president and CEO of Douglas Claims & Risk Consultants Inc., a West Palm Beach, Fla.-based workplace safety and human resources consultant. It's common for a domestic violence policy to be incorporated into workplace violence or harassment polices or into codes of conduct, she said.

"Employers can't stick their head in the sand anymore," Spence said. "They have to now create a policy. We get the sense that everyone is recognizing they don't want to have the spotlight put on their company the ways it's been put on the NFL."

Spence recently moderated a Twitter chat on domestic violence for the Society for Human Resource Management. Hundreds of HR directors participated, discussing hypothetical situations such as what to do if a high-profile person in a company is discovered to be a perpetrator and how to reach out to a worker who's productivity has been hurt by the stress of abuse.

"We find that the shame and stigma of domestic violence prevents people from sharing they are a victim, but it also affects them when they come into the workplace," Spence said.

The House of Ruth began reaching out to employers even before Ravens partnership began. For example, it has been working with Baltimore accounting firm Ellin & Tucker to teach what domestic violence is and how it can affect the work force.

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