Obligations to women
There are a number of areas in which we need to exercise due diligence to ensure that some of the special needs of women are met. Some of these become important primarily in larger facilities, where there are a large number of women. What might not be economically feasible in a place with one or two employees, may be come gross negligence if not provided in an organization or facility with several hundred or thousands of employees.
One obligation (which in theory could also be for men, but in practice tends not to be) is to provide a safe place where a woman who is the victim of domestic violence can be hidden, thus protecting both her and her co- workers from domestic violence that could spill over into the workplace. While hopefully rarely used, the cost of providing a safe haven is minimal, especially when compared with the cost, should an event take place.
Why is a safe haven an obligation? Primarily because there are three classes of workplace violence.
The least likely – but the one most likely to get publicity – is one in which an employee or customer goes berserk and does something violent.
The most likely is street crime that happens to someone at work: A cop shot on the job, an all-night gas station attendant killed in a robbery late at night, or a convenience store (or stop-and rob, as we sometimes think of it) clerk injured in a robbery.
Finally, there is domestic violence that moves into the workplace, which is less common than street crime, but far more common than sudden and unexpected violence.
While these last two aren’t as sexy as someone shooting up their office (just as it is less sexy to talk about the fact that more kids die in school playing ball sports than by being murdered), they are nonetheless where most of the problem lies, and, therefore, must be addressed.
Another obligation for companies today is the provision of day care facilities in places where a large number of women, many of whom have children, work. Faced with the choice of losing the employee or providing a place for her children during working hours, it often makes economic sense to provide childcare facilities and hold onto the worker. And once women bring their kids, an obligation exists to provide proper care for them. While the cost of providing daycare is obviously greater than providing a safe haven, the economic benefit of productive workers is likely to more than balance out the cost.
Admittedly a minor area compared to the first two, if there is a significant number of women who work late into their pregnancy and come back early with baby in tow, there may be an obligation to provide a clean room for breast-feeding. Again, this allows productive workers to be back on the job earlier, and eliminates the discomfort of those uncomfortable with public breast-feeding.
While none of these cases may fit the classic picture of due diligence, in fact in each case, after we identify the risks associated with not providing adequate care, we can address the liability we face if we approach the problem half-heartedly or ignore it.