Oct. 29, 2009

Domestic violence more than a private matter, experts say

Whether you call it domestic violence or intimate partner violence, the name implies that what goes on behind closed doors at home is a private matter.

But with proper training, experts say, supervisors, union representatives or co-workers can help a victim of domestic violence while meeting the employer's responsibility to maintain a safe worksite. In fact, "victim of domestic violence" has recently been added to New York state's human rights law, which protects employees from discrimination in hiring or employment practices.

At the Domestic Violence as a Workplace and Campus Issue workshop, Oct. 15, sponsored by the Office of Workforce Diversity and Inclusion, the Campus Life Labor Management Diversity Committee opened the program with a short skit depicting employees discussing the unusual behavior of a colleague they suspected was a victim of domestic violence. A discussion with information about resources followed.

"We are seeing an increase in employees looking for help in coping with the stresses associated with the current economic times," said Jim Morris, consultant from the Faculty and Staff Assistance Program (FSAP, formerly EAP), "but domestic violence issues are ongoing, in good times as well as bad. Most of the time, the subject of domestic violence thinks that no one else at work knows that something is up. But often there are subtle signs -- increased uneasiness as the workday draws to a close, unexpected absences, arriving late, appearing distracted -- as well as the more obvious ones such as harassing phone calls and bruises, and these do have an effect on the workplace."

He receives calls from victims as well as colleagues. "We offer one-on-one counseling with the person who has called about someone else. We try to determine how dangerous the situation is, and if we can speak to the victim, we then coach them on the resources available, such as community services or the police."

Morris encourages victims to create a safety plan -- speed dial numbers for help on a cell phone, support networks, money on the side, clothes ready to go, for example -- so that he or she can get away from a dangerous situation.

Sgt. Philip Mospan of Cornell University Police said that FSAP often gets involved when employees are harassed by unannounced and unwelcome calls or visits at work; or e-mails, Facebook and text messages; or are bullied. However, if someone feels or is physically threatened, police get involved.

Terry Sharpe, president of the local UAW 2300, said she works with victims of domestic violence on work-related issuess and tries to ensure the safety of all. "Especially if the situation has started to affect work performance, I can talk with the individual and refer him or her to a peer counselor and other resources without those conversations being part of a disciplinary process," she said.

K.C. Wagner, director of workplace issues, Cornell-ILR Metro District Office in New York City, who facilitated the workshop, suggested these workplace strategies:

"You want to stay nonjudgmental and not provide yet another source of anxiety," Wagner said, "but, if there is a work-related consequence to a domestic violence situation, supervisors have a right to address the issue in the workplace. It's advisable to do so with the goal of working with university resources to have a discussion to help that employee stay productive and safe."

To schedule a workshop in your unit, contact Michelle L. Artibee at 255-3976, TTD: 255-7066. For more information on dealing with a possible domestic violence situation, contact FSAP at 255-2673 or the Cornell Police at 255-1111; UAW members can also contact Sharpe at 272-4108.