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Firms Help Employees Stay Safe

Domestic Abuse

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Melissa Morbeck has obvious reasons to be enthusiastic about her work. As manager of compensation and benefits for Hill, Holliday advertising in Boston, she enjoys a responsible, often fast-paced job. She occupies a prime 40th-floor office with spectacular views.

But when Ms. Morbeck uses superlatives to describe her employer, they go beyond paychecks and perks to include something more profound: the support given her as she sought to regain safety, stability, and success after a violent three-year marriage.

"I owe my life to this agency," she says. "They have been absolutely phenomenal."

Domestic violence remains a subject seldom discussed by most American employers. But tomorrow, as part of a nationwide event designed to break that silence, Morbeck will describe the vital role corporate support plays in helping workers affected by abuse.

She will tell her story to more than 100 Boston executives attending a business roundtable on family violence. She will urge participants to reach out to their own employees, as her bosses did to her.

Messages like these will echo through offices and factories Oct. 1, as more than 200 businesses, unions, and government agencies take part in the second annual Work to End Domestic Violence Day. Through meetings, brochures, e-mail, and paycheck fliers, employers hope to heighten awareness of the problem and help workers find solutions.

Nearly 4 million women a year are physically abused by husbands or boyfriends, according to the Family Violence Prevention Fund in San Francisco, which organized tomorrow's event. Such abuse, the group says, reduces productivity, increases absenteeism and turnover, and heightens the risk of violence at work. It also costs hundreds of millions of dollars in health care, much of it paid for by employer benefits.

"The workplace has become the modern American neighborhood," says Esta Soler, executive director of the Family Violence Prevention Fund. "It's where most people spend a lot of time. Domestic violence is such a significant problem among women that they don't just leave the effects of it at home. It's imperative that we figure out what kinds of supports can be provided in the workplace."

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