Domestic violence can have a negative impact on business with high medical costs and lowered productivity for victims.

By Sue Villilo

"Positive Return on Investment"-it's a phrase used often in the business community when referring to programs and partnerships, but rarely when discussing the issue of domestic violence. In reality, the two are closely tied in a way that many business leaders may not fully recognize.

Domestic violence is not an easy topic to discuss, especially in a work environment. However, October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month-a good time to start the conversation.

According to a recent survey from the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), 21 percent of full-time employed adults said they had been victims of domestic violence. Typically, the desire to respect employee privacy and a lack of guidance can cause employers to avoid addressing the problem, but domestic violence is a widespread community issue that comes at a price.

The US Centers for Disease Control (CDC) found that domestic violence incidents put a significant strain on the medical and business communities. Domestic violence costs $8.3 billion in expenses annually: A combination of higher medical costs ($5.8 billion) and lost productivity ($2.5 billion).

Victims are forced to take more time off and deal with a broad range of emotional consequences, including depression, anxiety and low self-esteem, all of which can adversely affect their work. In fact, about 50 percent of domestic violence victims are harassed at work by their abusive partners, according to the U.S. General Accounting Office.

The US Department of Labor reports that victims of domestic violence lose nearly 8 million days of paid work per year, the equivalent of 32,000 full-time jobs.

In addition, 21-60 percent of victims lose their jobs due to reasons stemming from abuse (per the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence).

So what can businesses do to be more proactive? A good start is to develop a domestic violence response plan. According to SHRM, 65 percent of companies don't have a formal plan in place. More information on creating a domestic violence response plan can be found on the SHRM website.

Since employees spend the majority of their time in the office environment, co-workers may be among the first to notice that something is amiss. Companies can promote a culture that breaks the silence by providing domestic violence information at orientations, wellness events and more.

Domestic violence is an alarming and pervasive problem that significantly impacts the lives of hundreds of individuals and families, with far-reaching effects and substantial long-terms costs. It cuts across all geographic, religious, socio-economic, racial, sex and age barriers and it can happen to anyone.

As Domestic Violence Awareness Month comes to a close, central Ohio employers should reflect upon their workplace policies and ask the question: Are we doing enough to help our team members who may be struggling with an abusive relationship?

Sue Villilo is the executive director of CHOICES for Victims of Domestic Violence, the only domestic violence shelter and 24-hour hotline in Franklin County. For more information about domestic violence and the organization, go to choicescolumbus.org.