Bangor Daily News (Maine)

                            October 7, 2004 Thursday

Employers urged to aid abuse victims

   With the incidence of domestic violence rising steadily in Maine, the state is looking to Maine businesses to step up to the plate to help "stop one of the most serious public health threats of all time."

   Gov. John Baldacci will sign an executive order today charging all state agencies to craft and implement domestic violence policies. On Wednesday, businesses from across the Bangor region were called on to do the same.

   Recalling the 1989 murder-suicide of Patricia Crowley, who was shot to death by her husband while she worked at a Bangor travel agency in downtown Bangor, Baldacci pointed out that "domestic abuse does not end when the victim goes to work."

   "I was a legislator representing Bangor at that time, and that case had a profound impact on me," he told a crowd of about 90 business owners and representatives Wednesday during a one-day seminar at a Bangor hotel.

   Yet it's not just the headline-grabbing cases that business owners need to be watchful for, domestic violence advocates noted Wednesday. Each year, domestic violence costs businesses nationally about $3 million in lost productivity, absenteeism and improper use of company resources, Maine Public Safety Commissioner Michael Cantara said.

   In 2001, Maine became the first state in the nation to adopt a law mandating employers to provide employment leaves for domestic violence victims or to the immediate families of those victims who need time to either attend court hearings or seek medical or mental health services.

   Now public safety officials and domestic violence advocates are encouraging businesses to adopt policies to address domestic violence policies in the workplace.

   Francine Stark, community response coordinator for Spruce Run in Bangor, said too often women were afraid to bring their problems at home into the workplace because of embarrassment or fear of being fired. During a recent survey in Maine, 53 percent of the domestic violence victims interviewed said they lost their job at least in part because of the violence.

   Abusers sometimes call the victims repeatedly at work, call their supervisors and make up stories about them so they will get fired or they make pests of themselves at the victim's job location.

   "Besides all that, it is pretty darn hard to concentrate on your job and be productive when you are constantly worried about what's going to happen when you get home that night," Stark noted.

   Policies would encourage company employees to approach potential victims and make referrals to domestic violence programs. They would encourage training and put into place confidentiality allowances that would let employees come forward to ask for help without fear of retribution.

   Later in the morning, Robin Runge, director of the Commission on Domestic Violence at the American Bar Association and keynote speaker of the conference, stressed that adoption of a domestic violence policy not only was the wise and moral thing for companies to do to protect their employees, but it also was a way to protect themselves.

   "Cases are happening around this country right now," Runge said. "Lawsuits are being filed against companies now."

   Those cases involve allegations that span from failing to protect employees in the workplace to wrongful termination. Runge likened new domestic-violence -in-the-workplace cases today to the sexual harassment cases of the 1990s.

   "It's the right thing to do," she told the crowd, "and it's the smart thing to do, and it's really quite easy."

   The same seminar held Wednesday in Bangor will be held at 8:30 this morning at the Eastland Hotel in Portland.

   Business owners interested in learning more about developing domestic violence in the workplace policies can contact: Maine Coalition to End Domestic Violence at 207-941-1194 or e-mail at or go to their Web site at or Maine Employers Against Domestic Violence at 207-941-1194.