Creating a domestic violence program in the workplace

Domestic violence became one of Liz Claiborne Inc.’s main charitable focuses in 1991, and it soon occurred to the New York-based company that the same outreach it was doing in the community could be applied to its employees.

The organization issued memos and voice mails to employees to raise awareness about domestic violence, and posted signs in the restroom that highlighted resources for victims. Jane Randel, Liz Claiborne’s vice president of corporate communications, was the main leader of this movement.

In 2002, Randel attended an FBI conference on preventing workplace violence. While there, Liz Claiborne’s human resources department received its first report from an employee admitting she was a victim of domestic violence and needed help. The human resources manager did not know how to handle the report and brought it to company executives, who also were unsure how to proceed. Their solution was to “Call Jane.” The experience led the organization to realize that domestic violence prevention “is more than just a poster in a bathroom,” Randel said.

Randel took what she had learned at the FBI conference and applied it to Liz Claiborne’s domestic violence policy. A multidisciplinary team – including HR, security, legal and communications – was created to handle cases, and guidelines were established on how to manage reports. Executives and employees were trained on how to recognize domestic violence and respond appropriately.

Since Liz Claiborne began its awareness and prevention campaign, reports of domestic violence have risen significantly – from zero to almost 200 since 2003. “Incidents will go up if we do what we do well,” Randel said, “because people will step forward.” Kristen Illes, associate vice president of training for Safe Horizon, a victim assistance organization located in New York, agreed that a sharp increase in reports after beginning a program is common. “And it’s not because it wasn’t happening before,” she said. “It was happening, you just didn’t know about it – and that’s the dangerous thing. You want to know about it.”

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