After Ray Rice was suspended indefinitely by the National Football League for violating his employer’s personal conduct policy, the issue of domestic violence has garnered much more attention from employers. Along the way, new laws are ensuring that victims are able to take time off work to deal with these issues.

In August, Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick signed into a law An Act Relative to Domestic Violence, a measure that not only ups law enforcement training for dealing with domestic violence and sexual violence complaints, but also allows employees to take up to 15 days of leave from work in any 12-month period if they, or a family member, are a victim of abusive behavior.

The Massachusetts law, which applies to employers with 50 or more employees, says that leave can only be exhausted for employees who seek medical attention, counseling, victim services and legal assistance or seek substitute housing. But the “employer shall have sole discretion to determine whether any leave taken under this section shall be paid or unpaid,” the statute mandates.

See also: New-age challenges for employee privacy

Meanwhile, other states have also taken action over the last year. California, New Jersey and Oregon addressed the issue of securing employment and income for victims; this was achieved either through leaves of absence and paid leave measures, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures’ Child Support and Family Law Project.

Amber L. Elias, attorney at Fisher & Phillips’ Boston office, says these shifts toward increased domestic violence awareness among employers are all “part of a broader trend.”

“I think it comes from recognition that domestic violence is a very widespread problem,” she says. “It disrupts the lives of a lot of people, and companies have to deal with this.”

On average, women experience two million injuries from intimate partner violence each year. But this violence can also trickle into the workplaces, according to The Workplaces Respond to Domestic and Sexual Violence: A National Resource Center project. A 2006 study from The Bureau of Labor Statistics found that nearly one in four large employers – those with more than 1,000 employees – reported at least one incident of domestic violence in the past year.

Liz Roberts, deputy CEO and chief program officer of Safe Horizon, the nation’s largest domestic violence victim services organization, says domestic violence can be a problem in the workplace.

“Most employers have employees who are or have been victims of domestic abuse,” states Roberts. “It costs American employers billions of dollars each year in health care and lost productivity. Often an abuser will harass and stalk partners at work, make threatening calls to the victim’s boss or coworkers and may even physically prevent a victim from going to work.”

Meanwhile, Roberts adds that employers can play an important role in ending domestic violence abuse.

“Employers who have established company policies on domestic violence in the workplace, provide training on how to recognize signs of abuse and build awareness throughout their company often find these steps improve employee morale, increase employees’ safety and positively impact productivity,” Roberts says.

Traditionally, employers have used EAPs to raise awareness of not only domestic violence situations, but other personal issues such as substance abuse, family crisis or mental health needs.

See also: EAPs take on expanded role with ACA

Elias, who represents employers in labor and employment matters before federal and state courts and administrative agencies, adds that the focus from the employer community has always been on the business value of EAPs. Typically, employers will ask whether program offerings “will help people manage their family lives in a way that allows them to get back to work and be productive.”

But, according to George Martin, president of the executive committee of EASNA, the EAP trade association, there hasn’t been much change among employer mindsets when it comes to dealing with instances of domestic violence that spill into the workplace.

“The domestic violence issue is such a critical one,” says Martin, who is also president and CEO of CorpCare Associates, while noting that “it’s obviously something that has been around forever.”

“EAPs historically have always been there to support anyone who is a victim of such,” Martin explains. “That’s not something that is uncommon or unknown to EAP systems.”

Emphasizing a need for education, Martin notes that there is a standard EAP procedure when it comes to intervention, which include “24/7/365 coverage,” and either telephonic or in-person counseling. Meanwhile, Martin explains that there really hasn’t been much development when it comes to employer policies.

“I think if employers are doing anything, they are separating their level of involvement in employees’ lives,” says Martin. “By enlisting the EAP, that’s about how personal they want to get.”

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