Awareness and Remembrance, Workplace Champions

What Employers Can do to Support Victims of Domestic Violence

January 07, 2019

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Kathryn Marshall, Associate, MacDonald & Associates

Kathryn is an Associate Lawyer at MacDonald & Associates LLP, an employment law firm specializing in Canadian employment law for both employers and employees.

Kathryn’s passion for advocacy extends outside of the courtroom. She has worked to advance the rights of women and combat sexual harassment, domestic abuse and gender discrimination for over a decade. Kathryn has provided testimony on several occasions before a House of Commons Parliamentary Committee with respect to enhancing legislation that protects women and girls from exploitation and violence. Kathryn is also a founder of a national campaign that promotes the creation of sexual harassment and assault policies on university and college campuses across Canada.

The #MeToo movement has put sexual harassment and violence in the workplace front and center. But what about violence that occurs in the personal lives of employees, such as domestic abuse and sexual violence?

Is this something that employers should be thinking about and create policies to help support employees who have experienced this type of abuse? The answer is yes.

cartoon raised hands with me too written on them

In Ontario, domestic and sexual violence leave is now a job protected leave of absence in the workplace.  Employees are legally entitled to up to ten full consecutive days of leave and in some situations up to fifteen weeks in a calendar year if the employee or the employee’s child has experienced or been threatened with domestic violence or sexual abuse. The first five days of the leave are paid and the remaining days are unpaid.

Of note is the fact that Premier Doug Ford’s recently announced changes to the Employment Standards Act do not impact that domestic and sexual violence leave provisions.

Other provinces, such as Saskatchewan and New Brunswick, have either already brought in similar legislation or are in the process of introducing it. Federally, the Government has amended the Canadian Labour Code to include five paid days of domestic violence leave and ten days of unpaid leave.

Domestic violence is a major problem in Canada and continues to be immensely prevalent. According to Statistics Canada 2015 data, in 2013, there were over 90,300 victims of police-reported domestic violence in Canada.

Sexual violence, which is often a component of domestic violence, is also widespread. Also according to Statistics Canada 2015 data, between 2009 and 2014, there were 117,238 police-reported sexual assaults in Canada.

While these numbers may seem high, the reality is that the majority of domestic abuse and sexual violence incidents go unreported to police. Therefore these statistics represent only the tip of the iceberg.

Abusive relationships often spill over into the workplace because control is a primary element of the abuse. The abuser will often try and gain access to the victim at work through excessive texting, phone calls, emails, accessing co-workers or even showing up at the workplace.

Here are some things that employers can do to support employees who are victims of domestic and sexual violence:

  1. The employee should have access to resources such as helplines, trauma centers, shelters, counsellors, legal help and medical assistance. Put together a list of resources and support the employee in accessing help. Your local women’s shelter usually has a list of resources, so that is a good place to start in preparing your own list.
  2. Ensure the employee is not in immediate danger and encourage he or she to phone the police.
  3. Ensure the employee has access to somewhere safe to stay and has alerted close friends and family members who may assist.
  4. Ensure the office is safe. Access to the office should be restricted to employees. If the washroom is shared with other offices on the same floor, access to it should also be restricted to individuals who have a key or know the door passcode.
  5. Be vigilant in protecting the privacy of the employee. The employee’s home phone number/cell number should not be listed on the employer’s website and should never be given out to individuals calling the office.
  6. Be mindful that the abuser may be stalking the employer’s social media accounts and website. For example, the employer may be hosting a holiday party or charity drive. If reference is made to the time and location of these events on the employer’s social media accounts and websites, the abuser may show up. Therefore, keep information like this off the internet.
  7.  The employer should ensure it has a lock-down procedure in case the abuser shows up at the place of employment.
  8. Human Resources staff should be trained in how to support victims of domestic and sexual violence. Consider inviting someone with expertise in the field to attend your office and conduct a training seminar to management.
  9. Ensure that all employees know about their right to a leave of absence in the event of sexual or domestic abuse – this should be included in the company employee policy.
  10. Have clear policies on what evidence, if any, you require from employees taking this leave. In addition, have clear policies on what, if any, notice you require.