There’s been a huge spike in domestic violence since the start of the pandemic – in fact, the City of Ottawa has just declared it an epidemic. But is this something workplaces need to be concerned about?
“Yes,” says Kelly Hultink, WSPS Healthy Workplaces Consultant. “Once domestic violence enters the workplace, through attempts by the abuser to harass, stalk, threaten or injure a person at work, the employer’s duty to protect employees under the Domestic Violence provisions of the Occupational Health and Safety Act kicks in.
Statistics show at least 33% of employees experience domestic violence, and 54% say it follows them to work.  This can take a significant toll on employees’ mental and physical health, and also impacts performance, productivity, absenteeism, workload, and morale. Canadian employers lose $77.9 million annually due to direct and indirect costs.
“The workplace plays a vital role in protecting an employee from further abuse, ensuring the safety of all employees and providing resources to support the individual experiencing abuse,” says Kelly. She describes what that role looks like in practice.
First step, create a policy
Employers in Ontario have a duty to investigate cases of domestic violence that may cause danger at work, and to adopt measures and procedures to support the development of reasonable precautions for the worker. “These precautions should be set out in an individual safety plan, says Kelly.
Start by developing a policy around domestic violence and communicate it to the workforce through regular training sessions at all levels of the organization, says Kelly. “This will help reduce the stigma around domestic abuse, and educate everyone on this issue.”
The policy should include:
- its purpose. “Make it clear that the goal is to protect and support individuals and keep them safe from harm.”
- the definitions of domestic and family abuse
- the warning signs of domestic abuse, such as bruises, cuts, increased absenteeism, anxiety and fear, and more
- how workers can inform the employer if they fear domestic violence may enter the workplace
- how confidentiality will be protected
- a code word or signal staff can use to communicate if they are in danger
- the purpose of an individual safety plan
- information about entitlement options under the Employment Standards Act
- a list of resources, including EAPS, local shelters, helplines, the police, etc. “Post these in accessible areas, such as lunch rooms, washrooms, company website, etc.,” says Kelly.
Investigating a concern
An empathetic and sensitive approach is required when talking with employees you suspect are in danger from abusers. “Let them know you’ve noticed changes to their behaviour and bring up your concerns. Listen without judgement, and reiterate your concern for their well-being, and what kinds of processes you can put in place to protect them. ”
Developing a safety plan
An individual safety plan is required for all disclosed domestic violence situations in the workplace. Consult the worker when developing the plan and include the following:
- communication methods and procedures for the worker to report a threat at work
- the abuser’s identity (name, description and photograph)
- enhanced security measures to keep the abuser from entering the workplace (locked doors, monitoring system, etc.)
- actions to protect the worker: remove the worker’s name and email from the company website and office door; have other workers screen telephone calls and email messages; provide parking near the front door, and arrange for someone to accompany them to their car
- procedures for documenting all incidents at work
- a response system if the employee does not come to work
- a team to respond to incidents that arise at work. Team members should be trained on de-escalation techniques and understand when to call 911.
- emergency contacts and where that information is accessible
- resources and support
How WSPS can help
- Addressing Domestic Violence in the Workplace: a Handbook (Public Services Health and Safety Association)
- Domestic Violence Goes to Work Every Day(Ontario Federation of Labour)
- Ontario Network of Victim Services Providers
- Find a Helpline
- Legal Aid Ontario
- Violence & Harassment Prevention: Situational Awareness & De-escalation(3-hour, classroom)
- Workplace Violence & Harassment Awareness(40 minute, eCourse)
- Workplace Harassment and Violence Prevention for Federal employees(1 hour, eCourse)
- Podcast – Violence & Harassment Prevention: De-escalation Tips
- 5 de-escalation tips when responding to agitated customers(article)
- Reporting Workplace Violence and Harassment Procedure
- Domestic violence in the workplace(1 hour, eCourse)
- Steps an Employer should take to prevent violence and harassment directed at employees
- Workplace Violence and Harassment Toolbox
- Protect your teleworkers from domestic violence(article)