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Does Your Workplace Have a Re-active or Pro-active Approach to Domestic Violence?

December 05, 2014

Charles Boyer
Research Associate
Workplace Health and Wellness Research

By now, most of you are familiar with the Ray Rice incident. Rice, a successful National Football League player for the Baltimore Ravens, was caught on camera abusing his then-girlfriend in an elevator. The film of the incident was released to the public after Rice was suspended for two games by the NFL. In response to the public outrage generated by the video, the Baltimore Ravens and the NFL suspended Rice indefinitely. Many saw the suspension as a delayed and re-active response by NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, who himself subsequently admitted that “he did not get it right the first time.” This case has brought heightened attention to the issue of domestic violence and the role that employers play in preventing domestic violence and supporting those victimized by their partners. Unfortunately, the NFL has not been the only high-profile case that has surfaced recently—the NHL is facing a similar situation with one of its players.

A photo of a woman and baby being threatened with a fist.Domestic violence is certainly not limited to high-profile cases and famous athletes. According to a Canadian Women’s Foundation fact sheet, on any given night, 3,300 women seek emergency shelters because of domestic violence. The fear and emotional toll that domestic violence can take on an individual is devastating. And it is hardly surprising that the effects of domestic violence spill over into the workplace of victimized employees.

What Is the Role of the Employer in Canada?

The Canadian Initiative on Workplace Violence has done a great job showcasing the legislation and requirements relating to domestic and workplace violence in each province across Canada. Depending on the province, domestic violence is included as an element of workers compensation and occupational health and safety regulations.

Bill 168 in Ontario is one of the most well-known legislations in Canada dealing with domestic violence. The Ontario  government amended the Occupational Health and Safety Amendment Act through Bill 168, which received royal assent in 2009. The amendment was largely in reaction to the horrific murder of Lori Dupont in 2005. Dupont was murdered by her former partner while at work. In fact, Bill 168 was informally titled the “Lori Dupont bill.” As described by the Ontario Ministry of Labour, “employers who are aware or who ought reasonably to be aware that domestic violence that would likely expose a worker to physical injury may occur in the workplace must take every precaution reasonable in the circumstances to protect a worker.”

What Does a Workplace Domestic Violence Policy Look Like?

Is your organization prepared to protect and support an employee who is the victim of domestic violence? Does your organization have a formal domestic violence policy? What happens when both the accused abuser and the victim are your employees?

While it may not have been an issue for your workplace yet, taking a pro-active approach will help your organization. Should you discover a suspected incident of domestic violence, clear policies and procedures will allow you to act immediately. While not an exhaustive list, elements of a workplace domestic violence policy include:

  • Access to employee assistance programs (i.e., victim assistance)
  • Clear roles and responsibilities
  • Supportive leave policies and special accommodation planning
  • Threat assessment
  • Safety planning
  • Training and education

Many organizations across Canada provide useful information for employers and helpful examples of domestic violence policies. WorkSafeBC, for example, has created a domestic violence in the workplace handbook for employers. Taking a pro-active approach and introducing a domestic violence policy in the workplace will help increase awareness, manage and prevent the escalation of violence, and encourage those suffering to reach out for help.

In addition to these resources, researchers from the University of Western have recently completed a national study in partnership with the Canadian Labour Congress to understand how domestic violence impacts employees. Barb MacQuarrie, one of the key researchers from the study, will be presenting a 60-minute webinar on December 16, 2014, about this research. To learn more about the webinar or to register, please visit the following link:


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