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Addressing domestic violence in the workplace – some insights

domestic-violenceThe Ontario Occupational Health and Safety Act violence and harassment prevention provisions (Bill 168) require an employer to take all reasonable precautions in the circumstances for the protection of all employees if a domestic violence situation is likely to expose a worker to physical injury in the workplace and the employer becomes aware or ought reasonably to be aware of the situation.

But what does that imply? The law states the requirement but provides little guidance on what employers need to do to prevent domestic violence from spilling into the workplace. In addition, many employers are not comfortable addressing a situation of such a personal nature. It is not an easy task to complete and might never be.

Notwithstanding the above, many do believe that domestic violence has a significant effect on the workplace. Areas of impact include increased sick leave, increased absenteeism, reduced productivity and increased medical expenses. Unfortunately, Canadian-based resources designed to offer employers information on the situation and help them deal with this issue are almost non-existent. However, monitoring and prevention of domestic violence spilling into the workplace has been prevalent in the United States. In the US, domestic violence comprised 24 percent of the workplace violence incidents reported to the Bureau of Labor Statistics in its survey of businesses with 1,000 or more employees—more than “criminal incidents” at 17 percent. A recent survey of CEOs found that most believe domestic violence to be a serious issue, yet 71 percent did not believe it is a problem in their company. The reality is that approximately 21 percent of full-time working adults report being a victim of domestic violence (2005 National Survey, Corporate Alliance to End Partner Violence, CAEPV).

This said… how do you deal? After considerable research, I found that it is important for employers to first understand the issue of domestic violence and the workplace so that they can best describe it in their violence and harassment prevention program and policies.

Domestic violence in the workplace has been defined by several policy makers to mean: a pattern of coercive tactics which can include physical, psychological, sexual, economic and emotional abuse perpetrated by one person against an adult intimate partner, with the goal of establishing and maintaining power and control over the victim. In addition to exacting a tremendous toll from the individuals it directly affects, domestic violence often spills over into the workplace, compromising the safety of both victims and co-workers and resulting in lost productivity, increased health care costs, increased absenteeism and increased employee turnover.

Domestic violence also occurs within a wide spectrum of relationships, including married, divorced couples, couples with children, couples who live together or have lived together, gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender couples, and couples who are dating or who have dated in the past.

To the fullest extent possible, without violating any existing rights, rules, regulations, statutory requirements, contractual obligations or collective bargaining agreements, your organization should take all appropriate reasonable actions to promote safety in the workplace and respond effectively to the needs of victims of domestic violence.

The reasonable actions employers should think of taking to promote safety and respond effectively to the needs of victims of domestic violence include (this list is not exhaustive):

  • Education and training
  • Posting of information on domestic violence and available resources
  • Ensuring existing and future personnel policies and procedures are non-discriminatory and respond to the need of victims of domestic violence
  • Implementing a reporting process for witnesses or victim of domestic violence
  • Implementing a domestic violence workplace safety response plan
  • Implementing and maintaining an emergency security response plan
  • Investigating an act or acts of domestic violence occurring in the workplace
  • Implementing and maintaining an accommodation process specific to victims of domestic violence
  • Assisting the employee in determining the best use of his or her attendance and leave (statutory and employer-provided) benefits when an employee needs to be absent as a result of being a victim of domestic violence
  • Allowing time off for victims or subpoenaed witnesses to exercise their rights in court

Note that under privacy law and other applicable legislation, all information about employees who report and seek assistance about domestic violence and all information related to an employee being a victim of domestic violence must be kept confidential to the extent permitted by law and the employer’s policy, and must not be divulged without the written consent of the victimized employee.

Clearly, there are quite a lot of things to consider regarding your legal obligation to prevent domestic violence from happening in your workplace! I hope this blog has provided you with some guidelines, but you can find a more in-depth analysis of the above, and additional guidelines, in HRinfodesk article number 32034.

When more information is made available as we approach the six-month deadline, a new blog post and HRinfodesk article will be posted.

Yosie Saint-Cyr
Human Resources and Compliance

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Yosie Saint-Cyr, LL.B. Managing Editor

Managing Editor at First Reference Inc.
Yosie Saint-Cyr, LL.B., is a trained lawyer called to the Quebec bar in 1988 and is still a member in good standing. She practiced business, employment and labour law until 1999. For over 18 years, Yosie has been the Managing Editor of the following publications, Human Resources Advisor, Human Resources PolicyPro, HRinfodesk and Accessibility Standards PolicyPro from First Reference. Yosie is one of Canada’s best known and most respected HR authors, with an extensive background in employment and labour across the country. Read more
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4 thoughts on “Addressing domestic violence in the workplace – some insights
  • Denis Pakkala says:

    “Non-discriminatory” is key, otherwise employers may be liable.


    “ALMOST EQUAL PROPORTIONS OF MEN AND WOMEN (7% and 8% respectively) had been victims of intimate partner physical and psychological abuse (18% and 19% respectively). These findings were consistent with several earlier studies which reported equal rates of abuse by women and men in intimate relationships.”

  • Carl says:

    workplace violence. Well, the employee will just keep it bottled up and outlet it somewhere else. Why not more security guards or scanners to check for weapons in this country of happy gun toters

  • Misty says:

    This really helps to provide insight on better understanding this issue which has not had as much discussion in the work place. In updating Work Place Violence policies it is nice to have somewhere to start on this topic.

  • This blog post contains very helpful information on the prevalance of domestic violence as it pertains to the workplace. I agree with you Yosie that there is a severe shortage of Canadian resources and guidelines on how employers should deal with these new legal obligations created by recent amendments to the Occupational Health & Safety Act. As an educator of employers on this and other HR issues, I appreciate your reporting on research in this area. Your work illustrates a starting point in an area of workplace regulation where we are all pioneers! Thanks.