Many corporations rely on an EAP, or Employee Assistance Program, to identify and help employees with complex life issues that may impact their job performance. Such issues include domestic violence (DV), which in America affects roughly 1 in 3 females and 1 in 6 males. It might surprise you to know that most DV victims work, and of those employees, up to 75% report experiencing “spillover” (incidents of abuse that cross over into the workplace). Spillover can range from disruptive and threatening phone calls or visits to on-site acts of violence and homicide.
Is Your EAP Doing More Harm Than Good?
The threat is real; according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, an average of three female workers per week are murdered on the job by a current or former intimate partner. Not only does employee-related DV pose significant safety risks, but it also dramatically impacts the employer’s bottom line as well. Collectively, American companies lose over $10 billion dollars a year due to DV’s adverse effects on productivity, absenteeism, healthcare costs, liability, and employee turnover. In light of these facts, it’s easy to see why addressing employee-related DV is a sound business investment. Providing an EAP can be an important part of a corporation’s approach to preventing workplace DV, but as a consultant in that very subject, I have discovered over the years that some EAPs may be doing more harm than good.
Here are three examples of what I mean:
1) The Way Some EAPs Define Domestic Violence May Fail To Identify All Victims
There are actually 6 different types of domestic violence, including physical, sexual, verbal, psychological, financial, and spiritual abuse. If your EAP doesn’t include all of these types in their definition of DV, then they may be letting employee victims slip through the cracks. For instance, if a victim reports financial, verbal, and psychological abuse, but there is no physical component, some EAPs may have a policy of directing that victim toward non-DV counseling, or even worse, toward “couples counseling”, which can be extremely dangerous for DV victims.
2) Some EAPs May Fail To Adequately Identify Or Refer Domestic Abusers
One study out of the Johns Hopkins Center for Injury Research and Policy found that most EAPs do not have a policy or protocol for abuser screening and treatment, instead of relying on perpetrators to self-disclose, which they rarely do. Of the 28 programs studied, only three reported that their standard assessment covered the risk for DV perpetration. None specifically asked individuals if they had committed DV, although this question is unlikely to yield truthful results. What EAPs should focus on instead is helping employees to understand the warning signs of perpetration, so they can access assistance without actually admitting an offense to an EAP representative (a step which might require the representative to contact law enforcement). This can be accomplished by asking a series of questions that screen for perpetration in order to make appropriate referrals. For example, an EAP representative might ask a caller “Do you have trouble controlling your temper when arguing with your partner?” as opposed to “Have you ever assaulted your partner?”
3) Some EAPs May Direct Batterers Toward The Wrong Kind Of Treatment
Domestic violence may be exacerbated by factors like substance abuse, stress, and a “short fuse” temper, but at the root, it is all about power and control. Therefore, abusive behaviors cannot be effectively changed without addressing those issues. The gold standard for abuser treatment is called a BIP, or Batterer’s Intervention Program. BIPs are specialized, long-term, group treatment programs that help abusers to be accountable for their own behaviors, explore the reasons behind them, and understand how they affect others. Unfortunately, when contacting an EAP, some abuser employees may be pointed in the wrong direction, toward other types of treatment such as anger management, substance abuse, or mental health treatment. If needed, any one of these can be of great benefit in a DV situation, but only when combined with a BIP that really gets to the heart of the matter. Many EAPs are not aware of this problem, and may not even have resources prepared to offer employees who seek to change their abusive ways. In fact, in the previously mentioned Johns Hopkins study, half of EAPs reported sending abusers to general, non-BIP services, and nearly 40% had referred perpetrators to the same programs they referred victims to.
Questions To Ask Your EAP Representative
EAPs can be a crucial partner for companies seeking to address domestic violence and its impact on the workplace. But it’s the responsibility of every human resources department to communicate with their EAP on the issue of domestic violence and ask about how they handle calls from both victims and perpetrators.
Here are a few suggested questions to ask your Employee Assistance Program:
- What types of DV or abusive behaviors do they include in their definition of domestic violence? Is non-physical abuse considered DV?
- Do they have screening protocols for both victims and abusers?
- Do they offer resources for perpetrators, and if so, what are these resources? Do they include a BIP? If so, does that BIP serve both male and female perpetrators?
- Do they utilize any DV risk assessment tools or assess for risk indicators in any way?
- Do their victim resources include demographic-specific services such as assistance for LGBTQ, disabled, male, or minority DV victims?
- Are representatives required to be Masters level or above, and do they receive DV specific training?
- What is their policy around Duty to Warn or Tarasoff type confidentiality exceptions, particularly when dealing with DV cases?
- Do representatives use a safety plan with victims? If so, do they use a standard plan or develop a customized one? Does the plan include workplace safety?
- Do representatives directly connect callers with service referrals, or just give them the contact information?
- Can employees contact the EAP through methods other than telephone, such as email?
If the answers that an employer receives don’t match up with best practices, it’s up to them to ask for the changes they’d like to see. The only way our society will ever achieve transformative progress is by working together to solve the problems that weaken and divide us. So how does your EAP handle employee-related domestic violence?
Presage Consulting and Training, LLC is a boutique threat assessment and management firm focused solely on domestic violence. We offer customized training sessions on a variety of domestic violence topics. Choose from Corporate Training, Law Enforcement Training, Domestic Violence Training & Other Social Service Organizations.