Can work be safe, when home isn’t?

Domestic violence at work

Infographic displaying results of a domestic violence survey

According to the Department of Justice Canada, Research and Statistics Division, Canadian employers lose $77.9-million annually due to the direct and indirect impacts of domestic violence (DV), and the costs to individuals, families and society go far beyond that. To support advocacy and improve workplace DV policies in Canada, as well as contribute to the international knowledge base on this issue, Canadian data is urgently needed. Therefore researchers at the University of Western Ontario, in partnership with the Canadian Labour Congress (CLC), conducted the first-ever Canadian survey on DV in the workplace.

As a member of the CLC, OSSTF/FEESO played a role in shaping and supporting the distribution of the survey. The survey consisted of over 60 questions focused on people’s experiences with DV and the workplace, including questions about whether they were personally experiencing or had ever experienced DV and if they knew of anyone at their workplace who was experiencing or perpetrating DV.

This is a ground-breaking survey. It is the first-ever national survey on the impact of domestic violence on the workplace in Canada. It exposes how domestic violence follows people to work, has a significant impact on work performance and, for some people, costs them their job. The labour movement is ready to take the lead and work with employers to ensure people experiencing domestic violence can easily access the help they need in the workplace.

The survey, carried out between December 2013 and June 2014, asked 8,429 respondents if they had experienced domestic violence. One third said yes, and one tenth of those said it had
happened in the last 12 months.

Eighty-two per cent of those who had experienced domestic violence said it negatively impacted their ability to do their job. Almost 40 per cent of those said the violence kept them from getting to work. Almost 10 per cent said they lost their jobs because of it.

Half of those workers who had experienced domestic violence faced some form of that violence at or near work. This can come in the form of harassing e-mails, calls and texts but also stalking
and physical violence.

Most of the survey respondents were employed and living in stable housing. This confirms that violence happens to people from all walks of life, although women, First Nations, Inuit, Métis people, LGBTQ and gender-diverse people reported higher rates of violence.

Just over 40 per cent of those who experienced domestic violence discussed it with someone at work. That means just under 60 per cent did not. Being aware of these statistics is important but not as important as the work that needs to be done to address this issue.

This survey is the start of a conversation about how we can make workplaces safer. The labour movement is ready to take the lead, and OSSTF/FEESO will be part of that movement. This research has identified the scope and impact of domestic violence on workers and workplaces but is only a first step. Immediate next steps include encouraging the use of these results by governments, unions and employers to establish proactive practices to address the impact of DV at work.

We want to ensure workers who are experiencing domestic violence can access the support they need in the workplace. We need to consider how to negotiate supports—like paid leave for domestic violence—into collective agreements.

We want workers to know they can turn to union representatives for help if they need it. That means we will work to ensure union representatives are trained and equipped to recognize the signs of domestic violence and provide the right kind of support in the workplace.

We will also work to create a work environment where everyone has an awareness of domestic violence, so we are examining workplace-wide training with clear and specific steps to assist both victims and perpetrators.

The Canadian Labour Congress has sent a copy of the survey results to federal Labour Minister Kellie Leitch. Along with the survey results, a request has been made to convene a roundtable bringing together labour, employers and government to develop concrete solutions.

OSSTF/FEESO has long recognized violence against women is a larger social problem that requires men to take action, to stand up and hold each other accountable for unacceptable behaviour. Our ongoing work with the White Ribbon Campaign is part of our effort to address this important issue. On the 25th anniversary of the Montreal Massacre, every OSSTF/FEESO worksite was provided with a poster asking our members to pledge their commitment to ending violence against women.

However, our response to this survey should not only be directed at supporting victims. We need to look at the perpetrators of violence as well. We know men are primarily the perpetrators of domestic violence and sometimes our own silence makes us complicit. This survey provides us with the harsh realities of domestic violence. These results are not simple numbers. They bear silent witness to the victimization some of our co-workers experience.

Male leaders in the labour movement are prepared to have some tough conversations with each other and with our members. This is the only way we are really going to see change. If you signed your name on the White Ribbon Campaign poster this year, read the findings to learn more about domestic violence in the workplace so that together, we can take steps in the right direction.

For more information

About Suzette Clark
Suzette Clark is the Director of Educational Services at Provincial Office.

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