Employers need to take a proactive offense approach to domestic violence

WESTBOROUGH _ Recently, the National Football League (NFL) has been under harsh scrutiny due to the recent video of a professional football player knocking out his then fiancée. Further muddying the waters is the communications approach the NFL took in handling the situation until a video of the incident surfaced on worldwide media.

October is National Domestic Violence Awareness Month, designed to bring further awareness to domestic violence and support local efforts to assist victims. On Tuesday, Oct. 28, 2014 from 7:30 a.m. – 9:30 a.m., a seminar urging employers to be proactive in handling domestic violence issues in the workplace took place at the law firm of Bowditch & Dewey, LLP, 311 Main Street, Worcester.

“Don’t Fumble Domestic Violence in the Workplace,” informed employers of new laws, along with their rights and responsibilities from a legal perspective, and also how to effectively have a communications process in place addressing all of their constituents.

Seminar presenters included: Attorney David Felper, Partner, Bowditch & Dewey,  Practice Area Leader for Labor and Employment; Attorney AiVi Nguyen, Bowditch & Dewey; Deborah Penta,  CEO, PENTA Communications, Inc., and Amarely Gutierrez, Director of Domestic Violence Services and Transitional Housing Program at the YWCA of Central Massachusetts.

Domestic violence impacts a staggering 31 percent of women in the United States at some point in their lives, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.  An incredible 22.3 percent of women (and 14 percent of men) have experienced severe physical violence at the hands of an intimate partner.  The 2010 National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey data for Massachusetts found that 1 in 2 women and 1 in 4 men in Massachusetts experienced sexual violence other than rape. Nearly 1 in 3 women and 1 in 5 men in Massachusetts have experienced rape, physical violence and/or stalking by an intimate partner in their lives. In August of this year, Massachusetts passed a Domestic Violence Leave Law. The new law requires employers with 50 or more to provide employees a maximum of 15 days leave in any 12-month period if they or a family member are victims of abusive behavior.

“Dealing with domestic violence from an employer standpoint can lead to a crisis communications issue if not dealt with effectively,” said Penta. “Most companies don’t think about a potential communications problem until they have one.”

Penta encouraged employers to be proactive, rather than reactive in situations that could escalate to a crisis, resulting in news and/or information decimating to the public. She urged companies to use preparative strategies in an effort to ensure that their internal and external communications are well thought out with the right messaging in alignment with their organizational core values and public relations best practices.

“In crisis planning, we come back to the fundamental core values of the organization. Transparency is essential and it aids an organization in dealing with the real issues that could potentially damage a company’s brand, reputation, and relationships,” she added.

The seminar also offered employers information on what to do if one of their employees is a victim of domestic abuse; what to do if one of their employees is accused or is guilty of domestic abuse; how to manage internal and external communications; how to decipher the domestics violence laws in Massachusetts; and which resources are available for employee families who are impacted by domestic violence.

“We encourage our clients to have crisis communications strategies in place, and work with their organizations in both human resources and senior management when crafting successful strategies and solutions. If a company believes that it is immune to negative publicity during its lifespan, it is taking a significant risk which could jeopardize decades, if not centuries, of reputation building and goodwill,” said Penta.