AUGUSTA – Maine employers are being encouraged to adopt domestic violence policies after a Maine Department of Labor study showing that domestic abusers cost employers money through lost work time and on-the-job accidents.
The study by the Department of Labor and Family Crisis Services involved 152 male domestic abuse offenders who are involved with four Batterer Intervention projects in Maine.
Commissioner of Labor Laura Fortman said it was the first study of its kind in the nation.
“There have been studies regarding the impact that domestic violence has on victims’ work performance, but this is the first to study the implications to businesses because of the offenders’ actions,” said Fortman.
Of the 152 men interviewed, 78 percent admitted to using a work phone or company vehicle to check up on, express remorse, pressure or threaten a victim and 48 percent said they had difficulty concentrating at work.
“Just because [the offender has] gone to work does not mean that they are not worried about what [the victim is] doing at home or at her workplace,” said Ellen Ridley of Family Crisis Services. Ridley noted that 41 percent of those offenders interviewed reported that domestic violence affected their job performance and 19 percent said it was a factor in a work accident or near miss.
Offenders reported being distracted and injuring themselves or fellow workers, getting into vehicle accidents with company cars while talking with the victims on their cell phones and forgetting key safety gear.
Seventy percent of the offenders interviewed lost an average of 15,221 hours of work time due to their domestic abuse arrests amounting to about $200,000 in lost wages, according to the report.
“Maine employers are wrong if they think this is not affecting their businesses,” said Michael Bourque of Maine Employers Mutual Insurance Co.
In the study, four out of 10 offenders reported being late to work as a result of their behavior while 11 percent left work early to check up on their victim.
Maine Attorney General Steven Rowe has adopted a domestic violence policy for his office and Maine employers can use that policy as a model for their own businesses, Fortman said.
Also as a result of the study, the Department of Public Safety is organizing a series of seminars for employers on how to deal with domestic violence issues in the workplace.
At a press conference Tuesday, the study results were released and Gov. John Baldacci promised that his administration was tackling the issue in a “comprehensive way,” involving several departments including the Attorney General’s Office, the Department of Labor and the Department of Public Safety.
Susan Strasenburgh, owner of Peerless Painting, a painting and wall-covering business in Westbrook, said that as an employer, she had dealt with domestic violence issues having employed both an offender and a victim.
In both cases she said she became fearful for her employees and herself and lost revenue.
“What I’ve learned is that domestic abuse doesn’t stay at home when the victim goes to work and domestic violence doesn’t stay home when the offender goes to work,” said Strasenburgh. Both situations left her wondering whether she had responded properly.
While some employers may think firing the offender is the answer to the problem, national studies have shown that unemployment of the batterer was the greatest homicide risk factor for abused women.