How employers can confront the issue of domestic violence

Passage of Bill C-65 highlights importance of workplace harassment and prevention policies

How employers can confront the issue of domestic violence

At the beginning of the year, new legislation around anti-harassment and violence took effect for federally regulated workplaces.

The regulations outline the essential elements of a workplace harassment and violence prevention policy, as well as the procedures that must be in place to respond to incidents of harassment and violence if they do occur.

Research has shown the ill effects of domestic violence and its impact on the workplace, says Adriana Berlingieri, academic research associate at the Centre for Research and Education on Violence Against Women and Children (CREVAWC) at Western University.

“It is extremely clear now that domestic violence is not a private issue alone, it does make its way into the workplace. It has incredible costs and impacts not only for individuals but for workplaces as well.”

A legal expert recently weighed in about an employer’s obligations to employees who may be subjected to domestic violence while working from home.

Other losses that employers can experience include lost skills, knowledge, expertise; workers’ compensation costs; and legal liability/costs, among many others, she says.

“With regards to the workplace, research has shown that it has impacts on absenteeism, productivity in many forms, sick leaves, stress leave, and the list goes on and on. So, workplaces are definitely affected.”

CREVAWC, along with the Canadian Labour Congress and a researcher at the University of Toronto recently launched a survey to delve into why employees choose to report or not report harassment.


For employers, addressing the issue can be very complex, says Berlingieri.

“A lot of times, organizations don’t know where they’re at. ‘Where do I start?’ is one of the questions that we get all the time. They don’t know where to start, they’ve never looked at this before and it can be really intimidating.”

Adriana Berlingieri

But there are a lot of resources to help out employers, she says.

“We have the organizational readiness tool and [employers can] just go through it and answer some questions. And then they’re going to get an idea of where they are at in their process or journey. And it is something that they can do over and over again.”

CREVAWC also provides a policy builder tool that makes it easier for employers to come up with policies around violence and harassment in the workplace, says Berlingieri.

“It’s a comprehensive policy builder that helps them be compliant with legislation, it has been built with that in mind. And it can be built through two different ways. They can actually go through it and deselect the clauses that they don’t want in the policy, or they can just have the whole policy and go in and change it and adapt them to their own particular context in the workplace.”

The organization also offers a couple of training modules, one for those involved in the overall policy building process and one that caters to everyone in the workplace, she says.

“Managers and supervisors and others who are receiving reports, they have more responsibility. So they really need to know more about how to respond to domestic violence. And so that, again an interactive training module… And then for leaders who are responsible for ensuring that they are compliant and also in the creation of a workplace that’s safe, healthy, productive for their workers, we have a leadership seminar.”

Teamwork important

But it’s not just leaders who have a responsibility ─ workers also play a role here, says Berlingieri.

“We know from research that the first person or people in the workplace that a victim survivor will approach is a co-worker. And there will be multiple attempts until they feel safe to actually engage in a conversation about their experience. So, if everyone in the workplace at all levels knows what to do, then we can prevent the escalation of harassment and violence coming into the workplace… it’s really about that prevention.”

Organizations also need to team up with other organizations to ensure that they are fully providing supports in the workplace for victims of domestic violence, she says.

“What we’re asking employers to do as well is partner up. Don’t do the work yourself. Partner up with community shelters and community-based organizations. They will help you do risk assessments or safety planning, which is another thing that employers can do. And they can also be a source [of help] for employees, as well. Sometimes [employees] may not know that those exist.”

Canada previously announced it was consulting with the provinces and territories on ratifying International Labour Organization (ILO) Convention 190 which concerns the elimination of violence and harassment in the world of work. It was adopted by the ILO in June 2019.

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