Domestic violence in the world of sports has reared its ugly head again this week. Greg Oden, a former NBA No.1 draft pick, was released from a Marion, Indiana jail on Thursday, August 7, following his arrest on battery charges for allegedly hitting his ex-girlfriend in the face. The alleged incident occurred during an argument at Oden’s mother’s home. Police were called to the residence about 3:30 am. According to police reports, Oden claims that he inadvertently hit his ex-girlfriend in the face when he swung his arms to try to break free of two people who were trying to hold him back. The report stated that the ex-girlfriend had a swollen bloody face when police arrived.
Oden’s arrest occurred within days after the NFL levied a controversial 2-game suspension to Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice for conduct detrimental to the league. The suspension was in response to Rice’s off-season arrest for domestic violence. Rice’s arrest gained national attention after a video was released showing Rice dragging his unconscious fiancé from an Atlantic City, New Jersey hotel elevator in February 2014.
Since the NFL issued the discipline against Rice, domestic violence has been a lead topic of discussion in every media forum. And for good reason. Studies show that an alarming 24% of women between the ages of 18 and 65 have experienced domestic violence. More than one million people report a violent assault by an intimate partner every year in the United States. Perhaps it is because of these numbers that more than 47,500 people have signed a petition asking the NFL commissioner Roger Goodell to issue a stronger suspension against Rice.
While recent headlines have focused on domestic violence in sports, domestic violence is a societal problem that far transcends sports. Employers of all sizes and in all industries should pay attention to the Oden and Rice stories, because domestic violence has a major impact on the workplace. It can endanger the safety of workers, impact productivity, and expose an employer to liability.
- Domestic violence can lead to violence in the workplace. Domestic violence does not stay at the home. It often follows the victims at their place of work. It is not uncommon for perpetrators to pursue their intended targets at work, because they know they can find their victims at work and at certain hours. Once at the worksite, violence can occur. Sometimes the consequences are tragic. A Bureau of Labor Statistics report revealed that homicide is the second leading cause of death for women in the workplace. Approximately 15% of those deaths were caused by a current or former intimate partner. Even if there is no physical violence, the workplace can still be a source of abuse. One study showed that over 75% of domestic violence perpetrators used workplace resources to express remorse or anger towards, check up on, or threaten the victim. Domestic violence in the workplace endangers the safety of co-workers, customers, vendors and the public.
- Domestic Violence Decreases Productivity and Increases Costs. Personal problems affect job performance. Certainly domestic violence affects productivity. Battered women are often harassed at work causing them to arrive late, leave early, or not show up at all. According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, domestic violence victims in the U.S. lose a shocking total of nearly 8 million days of paid work as a result of violence against them. The total health care costs of family violence are estimated at hundreds of millions of dollars, most of which is borne in some fashion by the employer.
- Employers Have Legal Duties to Maintain Safe Workplaces. In addition to the humanitarian concerns about the impact domestic violence has on its victims, domestic violence can create liability when it spills into the workplace. Under OSHA’s “general duty” clause, employers have the obligation to maintain a safe work environment. This general duty may include workplace violence. In addition, several states have enacted laws that require employers to assist victims of domestic violence by granting leaves of absence to address their needs. Other state laws prohibit discrimination against an employee for being a victim of domestic violence. Domestic violence may also result in sexual harassment at work if the perpetrator, for example, creates a hostile work environment or makes an employee’s submission to sexual demands a part of the terms and conditions of employment.
Domestic violence has a significant impact on the workplace. It is incumbent that employers take measures to create a safe work environment for all workers, and become more aware of employees who may be the victims of domestic violence. Employers who implement policies that prohibit workplace violence and provide support to employees who are victims of domestic violence can make a difference in the lives of their employees, improve productivity and further protect the general public.