Suggested Guidelines for Unions

Domestic Violence:  Union Actions

Domestic violence is not a private matter.  Domestic Violence is a workplace issue that affects a significant number of union members and that makes it a union concern. One out of three women reported being a victim of violence at the hands of an intimate partner at some time in their lives. We know that when domestic violence follows women onto the jobsite the impacts are far reaching for the worker and her co-workers.  In fact it can be lethal.

Developed by Ontario Federation of Labour, Women’s Committee cope343

It’s the law

Bill 168 -- the act to amend the Occupational Health and Safety Act with respect to violence and harassment in the workplace and other matters took effect on June 15, 2010.  The law now says that employers must protect employees from being hurt or threatened by their abuser in the workplace. Here is what it says:

If an employer is aware, or ought to be aware, that domestic violence is likely to expose a worker to physical injury in the workplace, the employer must take every reasonable precaution to protect the worker. (Section 32.0.4)

Domestic violence raises issues for the union

As with any other health and safety issues, the local leadership can play a key role in stopping an injury before it happens.  The onus on ending workplace violence is not solely on the shoulders of the worker who is experiencing domestic violence. Local union leadership, women’s and workplace health & safety committees’ have a key role to create and enforce violence free workplaces.

Domestic Violence is a workplace issue

  • An abused member's partner unrelentingly stalks her at work and workers are concerned about a workplace security risk.
  • An abuser repeatedly prevents a member from leaving the house in the morning and the member is on final warning for lateness and absenteeism.
  • Another member goes to her steward explaining that she and her ex-.partner, who is also a member of the union, work together at the same facility. She has received an Order of Protection requiring that he remain at least 500 feet away from her at all times.

Domestic violence and its impacts do follow women to the job. The workplace can be the site of threats and assaults – or of effective interventions that save workers health, sense of security and lives.

Educate Your Members

  • Ensure local union leadership and members know their rights under Ontario's Occupational Health and Safety Act amendments.
  • Schedule training for local union leadership through the Workers’ Health & Safety Centre.
  • Distribute brochures with information about the dynamics of abuse and community resources.
  • Include information on domestic violence in regular steward/members trainings or prepare special workshops for stewards on workplace issues related to domestic violence.
  • Independently, or in cooperation with the employer, sponsor workshops about domestic violence.
  • Be sure all members have information about where to refer other members for help.
  • Make a statement that the union does not support any type of violence for any reason.

Negotiate and Advocate

  • Monitor the workplace to ensure the employer is in compliance with legislation.
  • Negotiate health & safety language that goes beyond the Occupational Health and Safety Act amendments that clearly reflect the union’s rights to be consulted at every step.
  • Negotiate contract language that supports members dealing with domestic violence including: the right and clear process for workplace accommodation, leaves of absence, transfers, worksite security and  time to attend court hearings.
  • Negotiate union counseling/employee assistance programs.
  • Negotiate the right and paid time for Workplace Health & Safety and Women’s Committee to review work place hazards and develop recommendations.
  • Negotiate employer-paid legal assistance plans.
  • Link with the human resources department to ensure that procedures are in place to protect members from domestic violence in the workplace.
  • Support initiatives that help members victimized by domestic violence, especially initiatives that increase funding for community-based services.

Responding to Members Who Abuse At Work

It is the employer's responsibility to provide a safe working environment. However, in situations such as discipline or job jeopardy, the legal Duty of Fair Representation may require the union to represent perpetrators. Union representatives should review all safe options to reasonably accommodate.

Remember, domestic violence is not a "fight" between two members. Although both members deserve representation, the abuser needs to know that his or her behavior is wrong and will not be tolerated.