Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

What the NFL Did Right in Its New Domestic Abuse Policy

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

What the NFL Did Right in Its New Domestic Abuse Policy

Article excerpt

The embattled National Football League, widely criticized for its reaction to the Ray Rice domestic abuse scandal earlier this year, has unveiled a new policy that includes reforms embraced by many of the most forward-thinking employers on the issue.

On Wednesday, league owners endorsed a policy that includes clearer guidelines, funds for counseling, expanded services for victims and violators, and - perhaps most significantly, experts say - a new special counsel for investigations and conduct.

Players were not consulted on the changes and so could challenge them in court. Indeed, the question of what role employers should play in disciplining employees accused of domestic abuse is fraught with moral and legal complexities. But the reforms announced by the NFL Wednesday offer at least a taste of how companies can aggressively address domestic violence, both for victims and the accused.

"We live in a nation where anyone accused has legal rights," says Lauren Stiller Rikleen, president of the Rikleen Institute for Strategic Leadership, a Boston-area consultancy that focuses on workplace challenges. "But on the other hand, there are areas where the workplace should be expected to step up more and take a more active role in addressing domestic violence."

She adds: "Employers have to figure out, 'What am I willing to do set a clear tone and expectation of zero tolerance for domestic violence? What are my rights as an employer to do that, without violating the rights that somebody involved may have throughout the court processes involved?' "

The NFL policy takes steps on many of these fronts. In addition to the new funds for counseling and expanded services for victims and families, the policy also includes a more extensive list of prohibited conduct, and a baseline suspension of six games without pay for any form of violent behavior.

But it is the league's decision to hire a disciplinary officer as a special counsel that is perhaps the most aggressive step. The counsel can help the league navigate the tangle of state laws on the issue, allowing it to take meaningful disciplinary actions that will stand up in court. …

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