In cases of emergency:
If you are concerned for your own or a co-worker’s immediate safety, call 911.
If you, or a co-worker/friend needs help, consult:
- Sheltersafe.ca, which provides a clickable map of shelters across Canada, including phone numbers for 24-hour support.
- Endingviolencecanada.org, which has a list of shelters and resources. https://endingviolencecanada.org/sexual-assault-centres-crisis-lines-and-support-services/
Shelters offer counselling and referral as well as a safe place to stay. They can assist our colleagues, employees, members and friends in developing a safety plan for themselves and their children. Unions and employers can call on shelter workers for advice and training.
Domestic Violence at Work and Responsibilities for Workplace Parties:
Domestic violence (DV) often comes into the workplace through the abuse of a colleague or employee by a current or former partner or other family member. This can take many forms, including emails, text messages, phone calls, visits, social media posts and disrupting childcare and/or transportation. By extension, many factors can impact the person’s ability to work, including physical injury; sleep deprivation; being forced out of the home; stress; or their abuser hiding car keys, a security pass or bus pass or refusing to care for children or threatening to harm children or co-workers, etc. Anyone can experience DV but women, transgender people, non-binary people and persons with disabilities are particularly vulnerable, and barriers exist also in receiving support or care.
Work can be a safe haven for someone who is experiencing violence at home. To deal with the consequences of domestic violence, employees may have to miss work to obtain an order of protection, engage in safety planning, secure legal assistance, find childcare or look for an alternative living arrangement.
Employers have many responsibilities as it pertains to domestic violence. Overall, employers have a responsibility and obligation under the Canada Labour Code, Part II, to protect and prevent against harassment and violence in the workplace. This covers all forms of violence, including domestic violence.
In addition, the Work Place Harassment and Violence Prevention Regulations (Regulations), most notably section 8, states:
An employer and the applicable partner must jointly identify the risk factors, internal and external to the workplace, that contribute to harassment and violence in the workplace, taking into account
- the culture, conditions, activities and organizational structure of the workplace;
- circumstances external to the workplace, such as family violence, that could give rise to harassment and violence in the workplace;
In addition, the Regulations contain specific other requirements including:
- Subsection 11(1) - the employer, with the applicable partner, must develop emergency procedures;
- Subsection 11(2) - the employer must make emergency procedures available to all employees;
- Subsection 11(3) - the employer must review with the applicable partner and, if necessary, update the emergency procedures after every implementation of the emergency procedures;
- Section 13 - the employer must make available to all employees information respecting the medical, psychological or other support services that are available within their geographical area and notably,
- Section 5 - requires the employer, with the applicable partner, to consider external risk factors while conducting the workplace assessments.
The Interpretations, Policies and Guidelines (IPG) notes that external risk factors may include family or domestic violence such as repeatedly phoning or emailing the employee to interfere with them while at work, showing up at the employee’s workplace and pestering co-workers with questions about the employee, etc.
As noted by the IPG, for all incidents of family or domestic violence that employers are made aware of, the employer should conduct a Risk Screening, and develop a Workplace Safety Plan, if needed. This is to prevent increased risk to the victim and others in the workplace. The employer should also provide the victim with referrals for internal and external support resources. If the incident occurred in the workplace (and therefore meets the definition of an occurrence), the employer must also follow the process laid out in the Regulations at sections 19 to 34.
Visit the Risk Screening tool, sample Workplace Safety Plan, and external resources developed by the Labour Program, Employment and Social Development Canada (ESDC) for more information.
Suggested DV Language for Department and Agency Violence and Harassment Roles and Responsibilities - Employer Responsibilities and Manager Responsibilities
- Dedicate sufficient attention, resources and time to address risk factors that contribute to workplace harassment and violence, including domestic and family violence, to prevent and protect against it;
- Implement preventative measures in response to the identified risk factors with the participation of the policy and/or workplace committee;
- Ensure that emergency response procedures are in place and communicated to employees in situations of workplace harassment and violence, including domestic and family violence;
- Ensure that information and guidance related to supports is available; this would include regional and local supports available;
- Development of procedures to address domestic and family violence in collaboration with the policy committee;
- Development of guides and toolkits in collaboration with the policy committee or representative.
Suggested DV Language for Department and Agency Violence and Harassment Prevention Policies
- Confidentiality must be addressed in the form of both of policy commitment as well as clear procedures. How employees’ confidentiality and privacy shall be ensured while ensuring workplace safety for all employees;
- Protection from discipline by the employer for reporting domestic violence;
- Appropriate action to be taken and clear procedures to be followed in the event an employee reports, or is perpetrating, domestic violence;
- A clear process for reporting - including who should be contacted (Designated Recipient).
- A defined process, roles and responsibilities for assessments related to Domestic Violence and how frequently the assessments are reviewed and repeated;
- A clear process for individualized safety planning, including who is responsible, their role and a sample safety plan as an addendum to the policy.
Training and Supports
The employer should provide to all employees, as part of the required workplace harassment and violence prevention training, awareness training on the factors that could lead to an occurrence of workplace harassment and violence from an external source such as domestic or family violence and the impact on the workplace.
The employer should identify a resource person or team, (ideally in the office of the Designated Recipient, Ombudsman or Human Resources) who will be trained in domestic violence, privacy issues and DV assessments. It is strongly recommended that the Designated Recipient be trained in mental health first aid as well as trauma-informed support. Bargaining agents may also want to consider establishing a trained union peer support representative(s).
Individual Support Measures That can be Used to Support Employees Experiencing Domestic or Family Violence
It is recommended that these be included in the policy, or an addendum to the policy, in Intranet website content, guides/checklists, awareness campaigns and staff training.
The employer shall consider and should approve any reasonable request from an employee experiencing domestic violence, including any of the following supports:
- Change in their working hours or shift patterns;
- Job redesign, changes to duties or reduced workload;
- Job transfer to another location or sector within the department;
- A change to their telephone number, email address, and/or call-screening to avoid harassing contact;
- Any other appropriate measure including those available under existing leave provisions for family-friendly and flexible working arrangements.
Checklist for Domestic Violence Procedures and Response Process
- Information, instruction and procedures for employees, managers and supervisors in domestic violence identification and response, plus workplace-specific policies and procedures.
- Posting of information on domestic violence, phone number and locations of nearby shelters in accessible areas of the workplace (e.g. H&S bulletin board, lunchrooms, washrooms, intranet). Encouraging employees to take a photo of the poster and information with their cell phone, so they have it to hand when needed.
- Enhanced security in the workplace to prohibit an employee’s abuser and all non-employees from entering unescorted.
- Emergency notification procedure.
- Accountability (including discipline) for employees or co-workers who are perpetrators of domestic violence and use company resources such as work time, or workplace devices.
- Confidentiality statement and procedures to ensure the protection of privacy.
- Clear employer commitment to develop an individual plan of prevention and emergency response with the cooperation and input of the employee subjected to domestic violence.
Individual Safety Plan
The Individual Safety Plan should be developed between the manager and the employee subjected to domestic and family violence. Other team member(s) who may be impacted may be involved given the circumstances and the type of measures to implement.
Note that many departments have a Safety Plan template that they may wish to refer to.
Checklist for an Individual Safety Plan
- Consult closely and work in concert with the employee experiencing domestic violence. Note that many departments have a Safety Plan Template.
- Change the employee’s workstation, including away from doors, windows, lobbies or parking lots.
- Change work schedule and offer flexible work hours.
- Provide the employee parking near the front door and arrange for someone to walk with them to and from their car.
- Remove the employee’s email address and telephone numbers and/or extension from public directories.
- Help the employee document all incidents of harassment and/or stalking that occur in the workplace, including email and telephone messages.
- Provide paid leave for the employee to attend legal proceedings, look for a new residence, tend to family emergencies and attend counselling sessions consistent with internal policies.
- The employee should provide a photograph of the abuser to the Designated Recipient or trained person identified by the employer.
When Domestic Violence is a Workplace Occurrence
“Occurrence” is defined in the Regulations as: “…an occurrence of harassment and violence in the workplace”.
However, “workplace” is defined in the Code as, “…any place where an employee is engaged in work for the employee’s employer.” Therefore, and as noted in the IPG, an employee’s “workplace” is not limited to only the building and facilities that have been provided to them by their employer. Instead, an employee’s workplace follows them wherever they are performing work for their employer. An employee’s workplace can include public spaces, third-party premises, and even the employee’s residence if the employer has allowed them to work from home.
Given this interpretation of “workplace,” if an employee is exposed to harassment and violence at any location while performing work for their employer, this would constitute an “occurrence” of harassment and violence under the Regulations. This includes incidents that arise out of or are linked with employment, such as:
- Incidents while on travel status, or
- After-work functions organized by the employer.
As a result, an “occurrence” of workplace harassment and violence can include an incident of domestic or family violence that takes place in either:
- The workplace the employer provided for you, or
- In the home if there is a “work-from-home” agreement.
However, if the employer is made aware of an incident of domestic or family violence that took place outside of the traditional physical workplace, the employer is nonetheless encouraged to address the incident and provide support to the affected employee in order to prevent it from becoming an “occurrence” in the future. The employer may still be involved if the incident occurs:
- In a home that is not subject to a “work-from-home” agreement, or
- In any other location that is not a workplace.
Dos and Don’ts
We should all watch out for signs that colleagues are being subjected to domestic or family violence.
- Approach/check-in with the individual if you suspect a co-worker is suffering abuse and feel comfortable to do so.
- Prepare for the discussion; choose a quiet and private place where you will not be interrupted. However, do not directly confront them since it is important for an individual to self-disclose for their own safety and well-being.
- Ask if the employee feels safe to have a private conversation if the discussion is happening remotely.
- Begin with sharing your observations and ask if they could tell you about what is happening.
- Express concern for their safety and a willingness to listen.
- Provide empathic listening; when an individual is ready, they will confide.
- Be patient.
- Mention that what is being discussed will remain confidential, however if you believe that there may be a risk of harm to themselves, another or a child, you will breach confidentiality, as required, and ensure that the employer and appropriate authorities are notified. Ensure that the co-worker agrees.
- Ask the employee what type of support they need.
- Provide information such as referrals to internal and external support resources.
- Give advice, judge or, share your personal feelings and thoughts on the situation if the employee confides/discloses being a victim of domestic or family violence.
- Tell the individual that they are strong for disclosing or that they will be ok.
- Blame the employee or their partner.
- Repeat the conversation.