Domestic violence follows victims to work, survey finds
|Report an Error|
Share via Email
Abuse at home follows half of its victims to work, according to a new study which shows the extent to which domestic violence impacts the workplace.
The research, the first of its kind, was conducted by the Canadian Labour Congress and Western University. Of the more than 8,400 respondents to the survey, a third reported experiencing domestic violence in their lifetime.
Of those, almost 54 per cent said the abuse spilled over to the workplace. Forty-one per cent reported receiving abusive phone calls or text messages while at work, and a fifth reported being stalked or harassed near the workplace.
“Until very, very recently, we were all working under the misconception that domestic violence didn’t have anything to do with the workplace,” said Barb MacQuarrie, community director at Western University’s Centre for Research & Education on Violence Against Women & Children.
“Until we learn to have those difficult and uncomfortable conversations, we’re not really going to be able to manage to offer better support. We’re not going to make our workplaces safer, more productive,” she added.
Melissa Corbeil was married for almost six years to a man who became increasingly physically abusive to her.
“It wasn’t just the stress of going into work, it was knowing that I was covering up bruises, and I was trying to hide my life — I thought I was protecting my family,” she told the Star.
“While I was at work, the calls started to increase. He would call me at work and threaten me, tell me I’d better be home on time. My co-workers started to get a little nervous, because they were hearing this over the phone.
“There was no escape. You think of work as being a safe place — at least that would be some time I could be away from my situation. But it wasn’t.”
According to the report, almost 40 per cent of those experiencing domestic violence had difficulty getting to work as a result of the abuse, and nearly 10 per cent lost a job because it.
Ontario and Manitoba are the only provinces where occupational health and safety laws require employers to help employees experiencing domestic violence. In Ontario, an employer must “take every precaution reasonable” to protect a worker, including creating individually tailored safety plans for at-risk employees.
“It’s really important legislation and it’s absolutely a giant step in the right direction,” said MacQuarrie. “But we’re still relying a great deal on the goodwill of employers to actually implement that legislation. We know that it’s being implemented very unevenly and employers — I would venture to say the vast majority of them — still don’t really understand their obligations.”
The majority of respondents in the survey said “mostly positive things” happened when they discussed domestic violence with their employers. But MacQuarrie said employment law must still be updated at the federal and provincial levels to give workers experiencing domestic violence the right to flexible hours and paid leave.
The Canada-wide study was inspired by a 2011 initiative in Australia. The project, completed in conjunction with Australian unions, resulted in almost two million workers gaining domestic violence benefits in their collective agreements.
“You could see the light bulbs go off,” said Vicky Smallman, director of women’s and human rights at the Canadian Labour Congress. “We knew this is something we wanted to learn more about. We didn’t have any good data in Canada. The last survey on violence against women was done in 1993.
“It’s really important when you’re negotiating with employers to have information that comes from Canada.”
The labour group says it will now look to including provisions in contracts for women’s advocates and paid leave for domestic violence survivors.
Some unions have already taken strides in this direction: the Yukon Teachers’ Association, for example, has negotiated paid leave for those experiencing abuse.
But Smallman said it’s also essential to work with employers and governments on solutions. The Canadian Labour Congress has asked federal Labour Minister Kellie Leitch to convene a roundtable to discuss the new research.
In 2001, Kim Gibson was stabbed 12 times by her abusive husband, leaving her paralyzed below the waist. The survey’s findings, she told the Star, make a compelling case for better workplace support for those facing abuse.
“If we don’t be proactive with that, we are enabling abusers,” she said.
“It has to be a collective social engagement. And in the workplace, we can start that.”