Is Domestic Violence a Workplace Issue?
According to the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety, the answer is yes. That’s because domestic violence follows a victim to work and can impact both the worker who is directly involved, and those working around them. It’s not just being a caring or considerate employer to think about these impacts, but the fact is that this issue is also creeping into legislation and workplace regulations all across the country.
In recent years more focus and research on this issue is giving employers and the general public more insight into this problem.
Some of this research was done by the University of Western Ontario in London who partnered with the Canadian Labour Congress to carry out the first ever Canadian survey on domestic violence in the workplace. What they found was startling. In economic terms they discovered that Canadian employers are losing $77.9 million dollars a year as a result of the direct and indirect impacts of domestic violence.
What is the impact of domestic violence?
There are a number of possible impacts on people who experience domestic violence that are show up in the workplace. They might include feeling isolated, ashamed of the situation they find themselves in, worry about their jobs. Many times they are isolated or ignored by other employees or managers who don’t know how to handle their situation or emotions. In general, many employees involved in domestic violence situations may have reduced productivity and motivation and a definite reduction in their overall morale at work.
For individuals the impact of domestic violence included having reduced incomes and a more disrupted work history. For those who reported domestic violence experiences, 38% indicated it impacted their ability to get to work (including being late, missing work, or both). And 8.5% of domestic violence victims indicated they had lost their job because of it. Perhaps even more concerning for employers was the fact that over half who reported domestic violence indicated that at least one type of abusive act occurred at or near the workplace including abusive phone calls or text messages, and being stalked or harassed near their workplace.
Some provincial jurisdictions in Canada are moving to expressly include domestic violence within their occupational health and safety legislation. In Ontario, the Occupational Health and Safety Act includes a provision for “domestic violence” in their Health and Safety Guidelines that have been developed by the Ministry of Labour. In the Province of Manitoba, they amended their Employment Standards Code to provide leave for victims of domestic violence. This provision allows for some paid and unpaid leave for domestic violence victims so that they can have the assurance of job protection while they seek safety. This leave could cover time looking for suitable housing, seeking care for physical or psychological injuries, accessing legal services including putting protective orders in place to protect the victim and any children who might be involved. Other provinces are reviewing this matter and many other jurisdictions are moving to provide similar protections.
What can an employer do?
Employers can assist any of their employees who might be facing domestic violence with moral, technical and financial support as they work through these challenging personal issues. Employers also have a responsibility to help their employees in tangible ways, whether they are provided for or required by legislation or regulations. These could include
Identifying warning signs
Employers can help all their workforce to recognize the warning signs and risk factors for domestic violence.
Establishing a support network
Employers can help facilitate support and assistance to employees experiencing domestic violence by building teams that might include supervisors and co-workers with other formal and informal resources like an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) provider.
Developing safety plans
If an employee is experiencing domestic violence the employer can help create an individualized personal and workplace safety plans to address the situation of the worker and other employees. These safety plans could have a number of elements including working with police if protection or restraining orders are required. The employee should be at the core of the plan and their advice and suggestions honoured when possible.
Employers can ask for a photo of the abuser and ensure that security and reception are aware and know who to look for. They can consider temporary relocations if that is feasible and possible and take all precautions to protect the employee inside of the company premises and adjacent areas like parking lots. Some employers make arrangements to provide a well-lit parking spot near the building, or escort the individual to their car or to public transit. Being flexible around work schedules can also be a great benefit to employees who are facing a domestic violence situation.