Cindy Bischof, a 43-year-old real estate broker, was shot and killed in the parking lot of her office in 2008, after ending a five-year relationship with boyfriend Michael Giroux. Despite a supportive employer who had hired security guards for company events, co-workers who escorted her to her car and installed security at her home, and a move to a different neighborhood to hide from her stalker, Giroux still managed to track her down at work and take her life, then his own.
Domestic violence comes to work, whether employers like it or not, and it’s not a rare occurrence. A recent study revealed that intimate partner violence resulted in 142 homicides among women at work in the US from 2003 to 2008, a figure that represents 22 percent of the 648 workplace homicides among women during that period. The study also reported that workplace homicide remains a leading cause of death for US women, and in 2010, homicides against women at work increased by 13 per cent.
Workplace as a Target
Intimate partner violence infiltrates the workplace, usually when the victim terminates their relationship, says Pamela Paziotopoulos, an attorney and vice president of Forest Advisors, experts in intimate partner and workplace violence prevention.
“Employee hours, where they work, is very predictable,” she says. “Their schedules are predictable, when they take lunch, when they take their breaks, how they get to work. So even though the abuser may not know where the victim lives any more, he or she certainly knows where they work. So work becomes a target.”
Human and Financial Costs
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Aside from the obvious devastating effects domestic violence has on victims, it also affects a company’s bottom line. It threatens workplace safety and is more volatile and potentially dangerous than drug addiction or alcoholism.
“In the US one out of four women report intimate partner violence, so with those statistics, any mid-to-large sized corporation certainly is dealing with this issue,” says Paziotopoulos It also costs the corporation lots of hidden costs, lost productivity, absenteeism, three to five billion dollars a year.”
Signs of Escalation
Domestic violence can escalate from stalking to workplace violence very quickly, says Paziotopoulos.
“Risk assessment in these cases is an absolute key. What we know is that swift intervention in the early stages can really prevent the escalation of violence,” she says.
“We know there are certain common denominators that make these risk assessments very useful tools,” she says. “For example, we know that in the majority of homicides the victim had terminated the relationship shortly before the homicide. When somebody separates, leaves the abuser, we know they are entering what we would call ‘danger zone’.”
An assessment should include asking the at-risk employee for details of the relationship and the partner’s mental state.
Paziotopoulos recommends that the director of security or the chief of the threat assessment team conduct a risk assessment on an at-risk employee to determine how far down the path of violence the potential victim’s partner is.
Risk factors include:
- an offender who violates protection orders
- recent acquisition of a firearm
- alcohol or drug abuse
- other personal troubles the offender is experiencing
Employers must be proactive to prevent domestic abuse and its potential to affect the workplace.
“The best method is for corporations to create a culture where people feel comfortable divulging this information,” says Paziotopoulos.
There are several ways to do this.
- have workplace violence policies that incorporate the topic of intimate partner abuse
- disseminate the information
- conduct training for the workforce
- Implement a method for employees to report any concerns anonymously
- Act quickly to assess risk when concerns are raised
- Put security measures in place when an employee is found to be at risk