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When Domestic Violence Shows Up at Work

Woman using computer“If you don’t come home now and make me lunch, you’ll be in big trouble.”

Imagine getting a message like this from your partner in the middle of your work day. And knowing that the threat is real.

It’s a sad reality for women who are experiencing domestic violence that abuse can carry over into the workplace, threatening their job security and financial independence.

A recent Canadian survey on domestic violence and the workplace conducted by The Canadian Labour Congress and The University of Western Ontario indicated that a third of respondents had experienced domestic violence at some point in their lives. Of those respondents, more than half said domestic violence followed them to work, compromising their safety and job security at least once.

The survey also found that: 

  • 81.9% of survivors said domestic violence negatively affected their performance at work
  • 38% of survivors said domestic violence affected their ability to get to work
  • 8.5% said that domestic violence caused them to lose their job

Other research shows that women with a history of domestic abuse have more interruptions to their work history, change jobs more frequently and are more likely to work casual, part-time jobs than women who haven’t experienced domestic violence. As a result they often earn lower incomes.

The link between domestic violence and the workplace is important, because steady employment can be crucial for women trying to leave abusive relationships. Women who depend on their abuser for financial support might feel like they have to stay in a violent relationship to protect themselves and their children from living in poverty.  A reliable paycheque can help secure transportation and housing, giving women the independence they need to leave.

When domestic violence seeps into the workplace, survey respondents said it’s most commonly in the form of abusive phone calls or text messages. An abuser might call a woman’s employers and co-workers, pressing them for details in order to keep tabs on her whereabouts. An abuser might also show up at the workplace or wait in the parking lot. This type of control can make it difficult for women to get the help they need.

The report also looked at how workplace policies can better support survivors. Seventy-five per cent of respondents said paid leave and better safety policies could help reduce the impact of domestic violence.

When employers offer paid leave to domestic violence survivors it can make a huge difference.  Women who need time off from work to access emergency medical services, move out of a violent home, or take legal action are able to do so without sacrificing income or worrying about losing their job.

It’s also in employers’ interest to help find solutions because it’s estimated that domestic violence currently costs Canadian workplaces $77.9 million a year in direct and indirect costs. In Manitoba, a new law was implemented to offer paid and unpaid leave to those experiencing domestic violence, while similar legislation has passed second reading in Ontario.

If you’ve seen warning signs of abuse and are worried a co-worker or employee might be experiencing violence the best thing you can do is offer them your support and help ensure their safety. The Centre for Research and Education on Violence Against Women and Children recommends asking sensitive questions and referring them to resources for developing a safety plan. For more tips on addressing domestic violence in the workplace you can visit the Centre’s website.

If you believe someone is at immediate danger, call 911. 


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