Watching for signs of domestic abuse

Includes trouble concentrating, arriving late, being less productive

Over the years, stereotypes have supported the belief that domestic abuse happens only to a few people, is private and not a workplace problem, as shown in the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS)’s 2009 Health and Safety Report.

But with the new voluntary National Standard for Psychological Health and Safety in the Workplace, promoting good mental health for employees is gaining prominence. This includes offering workplace support to abused individuals.

Employers should know the basic facts about domestic abuse. People aged 25 to 34 are three times more likely than those 45 and older to report they have been physically or sexually assaulted by their domestic partner, according to Statistics Canada.

In addition:

• Domestic abuse crosses all socio-economic, ethnic, religious, cultural and generational groups.

• Abuse happens in a repetitive cycle — once the pattern has been established, it is extremely difficult to stop without outside intervention.

• Alcohol and drugs may contribute to but do not cause abuse.

• The victim is not responsible for his partner’s behaviour.

Close to one in five Canadians have experienced some form of emotional or financial abuse in their current or previous relationship, according to the 2012 Statistics Canada report Family Violence in Canada, with insults and name-calling the most common form.

Recognize the signs

CCOHS outlines 10 signs that someone at work may be experiencing domestic abuse:

• injuries such as bruises, black eyes or broken bones with no, or unlikely, explanations

• absenteeism, lateness and a change in work performance

• anxiety, fear, high emotion, tearfulness and depression

• a sensitivity about home life or any mention of trouble

• an inability or unwillingness to travel for work

• unusual outfits (such as long sleeves in hot weather)

• isolation, unusual quietness or acting withdrawn

• a reluctance to respond to large numbers of phone calls, emails and texts from a current or former partner

• disruptive visits to work by a current or former partner

• someone who is a high achiever with an irrational fear of losing her job.

Provide information, help

To ensure affected employees have access to possible solutions, employers can provide information to educate a broad employee base:

• Post information on the dynamics and effects of abuse and prevention strategies.

• Provide contact information for community resources easily available to employees (such as posting information on the intranet or on a poster in the lunchroom).

• Offer helpful resources, such as an employee assistance program (EAP) or occupational health and safety nurse.

• If you have an EAP, refer employees to the program — it can offer referrals as needed.

• Train key members of the organization on intervention strategies including counselling and referral services.

• Provide prevention services to employees including parenting education, marriage preparation and self-esteem programs.

• Offer lunch-and-learns about domestic abuse.

What can co-workers do?

Become informed: Co-workers can also learn about domestic abuse and become informed about local programs that assist abused individuals and their children. These programs offer safety and support services.

Lend an ear: Co-workers can let others know they care and are willing to listen. The individual should be allowed to confide in co-workers at his own pace. He should be assured any information will be kept strictly confidential. Co-workers should listen and affirm feelings without judgment, and never blame or underestimate a fear of potential danger.

Be respectful: The troubled employee must make her own decisions about her life, so co-workers should support her right to make choices. They should send the message that the individual does not cause the abuse and cannot change a partner’s behaviour. Co-workers should focus on and reinforce the individual’s strengths, and provide emotional support to reinforce that she is a good person, including examining strengths and skills.

Samantha Wharton is vice-president of marketing and business development at FSEAP Toronto. For more information, visit

What to look for

Potential signs at work

  • Having trouble concentrating
  • Often arriving late
  • Missing work frequently
  • Being less productive
  • Making excuses for poor work performance
  • Receiving frequent phone calls, emails from a family member or partner

Source: Domestic Violence in the Workplace, WorkSafeBC

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