When the violence of domestic abuse spills over from home to workplace, Philip Morris and other employers are finding it in their best interest to make employees' personal lives their business, too.
Safe At Work
Two years ago on a cold November day, Stacey Jackson decided to be happy.
That's how she explains her hard-won conversion from battered wife to single, working mom. She was sick of the bruises and tired of feeling crazy. For six years she was both beaten and degraded by a husband who claimed he loved her. Jackson learned the hard way that this kind of love kills. This year in Virginia, it's killed 12 times.
So far, Jackson's made her new life work for her and her two young children. Tall and thin with short, wavy brown hair and a face like Halle Barry, Jackson, 30, doesn't mind that it's her stunning good looks and not her past that first reels people in. That's not important. What matters is the attention she gets when all eyes and ears are on her attention that used to make her shake and sweat in a panic.
"This is my main focus," says Jackson, who feels educating people about abuse is the best way to prevent it. And she's eager to share her story whenever and wherever she can, whether it's crunched into an hour slot at 9:30 a.m. in an Uptown coffee shop after getting the kids off to school and before her day starts as a counselor with Weight Loss Forever or before a crowd of 200 at a daylong corporate conference on domestic violence.
People listen to Jackson. What's more, employers such as Philip Morris listen or they're starting to. Some are motivated by fear of another Atlanta day-trader killing spree. Others are outraged by the $5 million a year that domestic abuse costs U.S. businesses in lost productivity, absenteeism and medical expense not to mention the cost of lawsuits. And after David Wayne Mason tied up his wife, murdered his two daughters, set fire to his Henrico County home and killed himself on Oct. 1, the very first day of National Domestic Awareness Month, some in public office like Attorney General Mark Earley are calling for action. "This is but one example of the horror and tragedy of domestic violence. We must turn our attention to the prevention of these crimes," Earley wrote in an emotionally charged press release last month.
Four million Americans are physically abused by their partners each year in the United States. And the brutality is spilling over from the home into the workplace. While random violent crimes at the workplace have "nearly dropped off the charts," explains Don Fowler, a 20-year police veteran and crime prevention specialist with Henrico County, domestic-related workplace crimes have risen sharply. The average cost of a workplace violence lawsuit is $1.5 million.
That's bad news for employers who, since the Occupation Safety and Health Act of 1970, have been responsible for workers' safety while on the job. For years, most employers have recognized a don't-ask, don't-tell policy concerning employees' private lives. But it becomes their business when an enraged spouse opens fire at his wife's office, a spurned girlfriend makes incessant phone calls and e-mail threats, or a fiancé vandalizes a car in the company parking lot. Nationally, 20 workers are murdered and 18,000 assaulted on the job each week. Homicide is the leading cause of death in the workplace for women.
Philip Morris U.S.A. began its crusade against domestic violence four years ago with a policy it feels works: zero tolerance for its more than 60,000 employees nationwide.
Philip Morris has long dealt with criticism of its products and marketing. And some would argue that a commitment now to public health from a cigarette maker is the height of hypocrisy. But in the case of domestic violence, Philip Morris' commitment to education and prevention is substantial.
Long before last month, when it launched a major imaging campaign to plug its community responsibility and downplay its tobacco-maker image, Philip Morris U. S. A., which also includes Kraft Foods and Miller Brewing Co., established this hard-line policy on domestic violence. As late as 1996 "very few other corporations at the time showed an interest in domestic violence," says Kim Farlow, a public relations specialist for Philip Morris. "It was a dirty little secret." Since then, the company has sponsored more than 20 conferences nationwide on Oct. 7, the second Annual Corporate Conference on Domestic Violence was held at its manufacturing center where more than 200 regional business leaders and professionals came to learn about the subject. The conference aimed to inform and educate employers and employees of the devastating and costly effects of domestic violence.
Along with its no-nonsense stand on domestic violence, Philip Morris will contribute $4 million this year to groups that offer domestic abuse services: It recently gave $9,000 to the Richmond YWCA and $50,000 combined to Family and Children's Service and Family and Children's Trust Fund of Virginia.
In a crowded conference room on a recent Thursday afternoon, more than 45 Time-Life customer service employees sit and wait for Officer Fowler and Heather Shisler of the YWCA to start the program.
The program "Preventing Workplace Violence," is the nascent joint effort started in August by Fowler and Shisler as a way to educate the workforce about domestic violence. Like the seminars sponsored by Philip Morris, this one helps employees understand the basics of domestic violence, its prevalence, how to identify it, respond when a co-worker needs help, who to tell, and whose rights might be jeopardized. It lasts nearly two hours but the group pays close attention, listening intently to Fowler. One of them might even be a victim of domestic violence. Every fifteen seconds someone
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