Why Is Domestic Violence More Often Becoming a Workplace Responsibility?

It is understood that domestic violence has been known to effect employees at work in a number of ways; a recent study shows that the problem is widespread. “Can Work Be Safe, When Home Isn’t,” (PDF) by researchers at Western University and the Canadian Labour Congress, outlines the preliminary results of a Canada-wide survey of more than 8,000 workers on how domestic violence effects workplaces. The results are startling in many ways, but unsurprising in others.

For instance:

  • One third of the survey’s respondents had experienced domestic violence
  • 35 percent said they believe a co-worker is experiencing domestic violence
  • 12 percent said they believe a co-worker is perpetrating domestic abuse
  • Domestic violence costs Canadian employers $78 million dollars per year; this figure does not include the costs to workers, their families and society at large
  • Women who are victims of domestic violence are more likely to have trouble obtaining and maintaining quality permanent work, to change jobs frequently, and to earn less money; this lack of security leaves them without the resources to leave their abusers and reinforces the cycle of abuse
  • Domestic abusers also suffer at work, often having trouble focusing, and occasionally causing violent incidences at their own workplaces; abusers’ behaviour commonly leads to lost work time, reduced workplace productivity, and poses a risk to co-workers

According to the Manitoba Ministry of Labour and Immigration,

“many people facing domestic violence spend eight hours a day in the workplace, making it an excellent place to get help and support.”

Domestic violence that happens in an employee’s life outside of work can also sometimes occur at the workplace, and can have fatal consequences.

How does domestic violence enter the workplace?

Workers may experience a variety of violent acts, such as abusive phone calls, text messages or email at work; stalking or harassment at or near the workplace; abusers may contact co-workers, and engage in other aggressive behaviour. More than half of the victims of domestic violence said they had experienced domestic abuse in some form at work.

Domestic violence may prevent a victim from getting to work, prevent a victim from concentrating on work, and interfere with co-workers’ performance as well. Other employees may be impacted due to fear, stress, concern for the victim’s well-being, increased workload due to the victim’s absence or reduced productivity, and other factors. Close to nine percent of victims said they had lost a job due to domestic violence.

Therefore, we are starting to see changes in employment law that requires employers to recognize signs of domestic abuse and to address it with sensitivity and confidentiality, as well as support for employees.

Workplace developments in regards to domestic violence

Under the Employment Standards Code, the Manitoba government enacted on March 15, 2016, a job-protected leave from work to allow employee victims of domestic violence time to deal with issues arising from their abuse.

Ontario is currently debating private member’s Bill 26, Domestic and Sexual Violence Workplace Leave, Accommodation and Training Act, 2016 introduced by NDP women’s critic Peggy Sattler on September 27, 2016. If enacted, it would amend the Employment Standards Act to allow an employee to take a leave of absence if they have experienced domestic or sexual violence, to see a doctor or lawyer. The Bill will entitle an employee victim of domestic violence, to be paid for up to 10 days of leave in each calendar year. An employee will also be entitled to reasonable accommodation with respect to their work hours and workplace.

Bill 26 will also amend the Occupational Health and Safety Act to ensure that every manager, supervisor and worker receives information and instruction about domestic and sexual violence in the workplace from the employer.

Since June 15, 2010, the Ontario Occupational Health and safety Act violence and harassment prevention provisions (Bill 168) require an employer to take all reasonable precautions in the circumstances for the protection of all employees if a domestic violence situation is likely to expose a worker to physical injury in the workplace and the employer becomes aware or ought reasonably to be aware of the situation.

More recently, the United Steelworkers Local 1-207 in Alberta has negotiated domestic violence leave for members who work at a long-term care facility. This means that at Rivercrest Care Centre, for example, workers who are victims of domestic violence can take paid leave for legal, medical and counselling appointments without fear of losing their jobs. Ray White, president of Local 1-207, said that it plans to table similar proposals with other employers. “We have it on three other contract tables right now and, as they become available, we will be putting the proposal forward at every place we bargain.” The union hopes that the Alberta government will take action to ensure that all people can take time off to get the help they need, like what was done in Manitoba. In response, Alberta Labour Minister Christina Gray said the government will look at domestic violence leave as part of a review of the province’s employment and labour laws, but she gave no indication when that may be. But she added,

“That includes looking for ways that we can help ensure Albertans facing domestic violence are supported, such as domestic violence leave,” she said in an email. “I will have more to say in the coming months.”

These statutes could pose some challenges to employers, including how they protect employees’ privacy. Regardless, studies like the recent survey discussed above drive home the reality that domestic violence has far reaching effects. Employers must be prepared to be appropriately responsive when complying with the law, or when faced with an employee victim of domestic violence or an employee who is perpetrating domestic abuse. Employers must act to create safe and healthy workplaces and protect their workers from violence and abuse.

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