DISCLAIMER: The material contained in this document is for information and reference purposes only and is not intended as legal or professional advice. The adoption of the practices described in this document may not meet all the needs, requirements, or obligations of individual workplaces.
Domestic violence is widely understood to be a pattern of behaviour used by one person to gain power and control over another person with whom he/she has or has had an intimate relationship. This pattern of behaviour may include physical violence, sexual, emotional, and psychological intimidation, verbal abuse, stalking, and using electronic devices to harass and control.
Anyone can be a victim of domestic violence, whatever their age, race, economic status, religion, sexual orientation, or education.
While men can be victims of domestic violence, women represent the overwhelming majority of victims of such violence.
The social costs of violence against women, including health care for victims, criminal justice, social services, and lost productivity, are estimated in the billions of dollars. The psychological impacts for victims and their family and friends cannot be measured in dollars.
Source: Measuring Violence Against Women — Statistical Trends. Statistics Canada, 2006.
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Domestic violence can have serious and even lethal consequences. Behaviours such as emotional and psychological intimidation and harassment can be disruptive and harmful to the victim and can quickly turn into physical violence.
Treat warning signs seriously and take immediate action when violence threatens to affect the workplace.
Stalking has been identified as one of the primary risk factors for attempted and actual murder of female partners in intimate relationships. Recent separation is also an important flag, as many deaths related to domestic violence in Ontario occurred when the relationship was ending or following separation.
Obsessive behaviour, which includes stalking behaviours such as following the victim, spying on the victim, making repeated phone calls to the victim, or excessive gift giving, has been identified as a key risk factor leading to domestic violence deaths, and was present in 62% of cases.
Source: Annual report of the Ontario Coroner’s Domestic Violence Death Review Committee, 2008
Under the Occupational Health and Safety Act, employers who are aware or who ought reasonably to be aware that domestic violence that would likely expose a worker to physical injury may occur in the workplace must take every precaution reasonable in the circumstances to protect a worker.
The Occupational Health and Safety Act defines workplace violence (see page 6). Domestic violence is interpreted in a manner consistent with the workplace violence definition when it may occur in the workplace.
It is in your best interests to be able to recognize the signs of domestic violence in order to keep your workers safe. While there are numerous signs of domestic violence, the most common one in the workplace is harassment, over the phone or in person. The document Recognizing Domestic Violence in the Workplace, located in the Toolbox provides a more complete list of these signs.
It is important to deal with each situation on a case-by-case basis, taking into account the needs of the individuals involved.
Developing a safety plan with the victim’s input might be a reasonable precaution to keep your employee(s) safe from domestic violence that may occur in the workplace. This plan will look at increased safety measures that you can implement in the workplace. See Creating a Safety Plan in the Toolbox for more information on how to develop a workplace safety plan.
What is a safety plan?
A safety plan involves identifying actions that will increase worker safety, and preparing for the possibility of further violence. Safety plans should always be created with input from the victim, customized to meet the needs of the individual victim, and include available resources and support. Safety plans are a crucial step in ensuring worker safety.
Sometimes the employer’s duty to take every precaution reasonable in the circumstances to the protect workers may outweigh an individual’s expectation of privacy. In other words, the victim’s privacy may need to be balanced against ensuring the safety of others.
Communicating on a "need to know" basis will ensure that information about a domestic violence situation is kept confidential or restricted to a minimum number of employees (for example, those who are directly responsible for ensuring the safety of those workers who may be at risk).
Involving the victim in communication decisions may lessen the impact. Discuss who needs to be informed, what information will be communicated, expectations for confidentiality, and what the consequences will be for others if confidentiality is breached.
Caution should be exercised to ensure that the victim's safety is not compromised.
If warning signs of domestic violence are noticed, or if a worker discloses abuse, here are some things you can do:
Note: If you are aware that domestic violence is occurring at a worker’s home and a child has been assaulted, or if you are afraid for the child’s safety due to violence in the home, you have a legal obligation to report your concerns under the Child and Family Services Act. This is true whether or not domestic violence occurs in the workplace. This legal obligation to report applies to all persons in Ontario, including professionals who work with children. Call your local children’s aid society for more information.
Research suggests that 70% of domestic violence victims are also abused at work at some point.
Source: Swanberg, J., Logan, TK, and Macke, C. "Intimate Partner Violence, Employment, and the Workplace".Trauma, Violence & Abuse, Vol. 6, No. 4 2005.
The most common tactics are repeated harassing phone calls and in-person harassment.
Source: Swanberg, J., Macke, C. and Logan, TK 2006, “Intimate Partner Violence, Women, and Work: Coping on the Job”. Violence & Victims, vol. 21, no. 5, pp 561-578.
Sometimes, it may be difficult for a victim to acknowledge an experience with domestic violence due to embarrassment, fear, or concern for their family’s immigration status.
Note: Under the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, workers who are not Canadian citizens (including permanent residents) may lose their ability to work and stay in Canada if they are convicted of an offence.
It may take time for the victim to open up. In the meantime, here are some other suggestions of what you can say or do:
Let the victim know that you, as the employer, are responsible for workplace safety and ask the victim to tell you if safety in the workplace becomes a concern. Also, let the victim know that you will need to call the police if violence occurs at the workplace.
Accessible workplace programs and a supportive work environment can help workers who are experiencing domestic violence.
For more details on what a good domestic violence program should include, see the Policy, Program, and Training Review Tool in the Toolbox .