Case study: Credit union tackles domestic violence

Ontario’s Bill 168 prompted policy review and manager training to keep workers safe

About one month before Ontario’s new workplace violence legislation came into force in June, Meridian, a St. Catharines, Ont.-based credit union with 54 locations in the province, conducted an extensive review of its violence and harassment policies.

The only changes Meridian had to make concerned the legislation’s domestic violence provisions, said Tom Wise, a senior vice-president and chief of staff at Meridian.

“Our policies were very robust in terms of code of conduct, privacy, harassment. This was really just augmenting those,” he said.
Under the legislation, managers have a responsibility, where they are aware or where they may suspect issues of domestic violence, to keep workers safe, said Wise, who is based in Toronto.

This can seem like a daunting task, but it doesn’t mean managers have to actively uncover domestic violence. But, if a manager notices signs of domestic abuse, such as bruises, increased absenteeism or reduced productivity, she has a responsibility to speak to the employee about her concerns, said Wise.

As financial services professionals, most managers at Meridian don’t have a lot of experience dealing with domestic violence, he said. To ensure they could meet their responsibilities under the legislation, Meridian instituted extensive training for managers about how to talk to employees about this sensitive issue.

“We asked our leaders to act as a role model for their employees by becoming aware of the signs of possible domestic violence and, where they are aware or should reasonably be aware that domestic violence is likely to expose an employee to physical injury in the workplace, they must take every precaution reasonable given the circumstances to protect the employee,” said Wise.

Meridian brought in trainers from its employee assistance program (EAP) to train managers on the signs to watch out for, how to broach the discussion in a sensitive manner and their legal obligations, he said.

Managers were also encouraged to first reach out to HR for advisory and consultative support when they suspect an employee is at risk of domestic violence, he said.

“We bring our expertise to that particular situation to ensure the employee and the manger understand what steps, what actions to take, and what other third parties can be brought in to provide assistance,” said Wise. A third party could include the EAP or the police, if appropriate.

To ensure the employee’s privacy is protected, the manager and HR would determine what information can be shared and with whom on a case-by-case basis, said Wise. The credit union’s policy states Meridian will keep “all complaints and investigations confidential, to the extent that we are able to do so. Information will only be released as is necessary to investigate and respond to the complaint.”

Along with management training and communication, Meridian used the intranet and daily branch meetings to let employees know about the new policy and give them a chance to ask questions.

Employees who don’t feel comfortable approaching their manager about domestic violence can call the credit union’s ethics hotline, which was originally created for employees to report wrongdoing.

When an employee calls the hotline, her information is documented and a confidential investigation is launched, said Wise.
To date managers have understood and appreciated the new policy, and have had positive feedback about the training, said Wise. And employees, as far as Wise can tell, are comfortable with the new policy.

“We have an environment where it’s safe to have those kinds of types of conversations,” he said. “We’re not here to chastise or even judge. We’re here to help and to assist to the degree that an employer can help.”

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