Firms Help Employees Stay Safe
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"Our goal is to try to create a positive atmosphere for people to be able to come forward and speak confidentially," says Bruce Davidson, manager of employee assistance and work life programs at Digital headquarters in Maynard, Mass. "In some cases people may be coming to us just to explore what their options are. They're frightened for their safety and may be frightened for the safety of their children."Skip to next paragraph
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The initial focus, Mr. Davidson says, is on security. "Then we try to link the worker with community resources that can work directly with the individual, and work out what plans they may need to make in their personal life."
In New York, Mayor Rudolph Giuliani sent a letter to all city employees, informing them of the Oct. 1 observance. Tomorrow, city personnel offices will distribute informational material to workers. The mayor is also encouraging agencies to organize events to benefit domestic-violence victims throughout the city.
Polaroid Corp., long a leader in domestic-violence education, now offers a refresher course every other month.
For Morbeck, activities like these are heartening. Sitting in her office, she describes the steps two of her own employers took to help her.
Seven years ago, fearing for her life because of her husband's violence, she confided in managers at the Connecticut firm where she then worked.
"They were marvelous," she says. "They drew up a safety plan, making sure they knew where I was at all times. They took photographs so I had evidence of beatings. They also advanced me a week's pay so I could escape. They were the key to giving me the tools to get out of there."
After a cross-country train trip to the West Coast with $50 in her pocket, Morbeck accepted a secretarial position with Hill, Holliday in Los Angeles. Again she confided in a supervisor. The company gave her paid personal time to return to Connecticut for her divorce trial in 1991. Managers also gave her time off for therapy.
Morbeck recalls, "They said, 'You have substantial responsibilities to fulfill, and we expect you to fulfill them. But you are a member of our family, and we will stand with you.' They did not pity me, they did not treat me as a victim. They treated me with respect and dignity."
Workplace as community
To abused employees who are reluctant to confide in a supervisor, Morbeck says, "You have to begin to trust someone."
Some companies still resist such involvement. "They think if it's a family problem, the solution rests within the family," says Ms. Soler of the Family Violence Prevention Fund. "Families need to be engaged in the solution, but they also need outside intervention."
Defending the need for corporate involvement, Soler adds, "I know we ask our workplaces to do a lot, but I think they're part of the community, and their workers are part of their community. The last thing we want a battered woman to feel is isolated. We have to break the secrecy."
Morbeck agrees. "A place where people work is a microcosm of society," she says. "As an employer, you have to realize the work force is made up of human beings. This is very much a social and moral contract you have with your employees."