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Dealing with domestic violence in the workplace

domestic violenceStatistics Canada reports that “in 2015, there were over 86,000 victims of violence committed by a spouse, parent, child, sibling or other family member in Canada”, just under half were perpetrated by spouses or ex-spouses and women represented 79% of victims. (See Family Violence in Canada: A Statistical Profile, 2015, Marta Burczycka, Statistics Canada 85-002-X). The report shows the greatest incident rates in 2015 to be in the Territories, Saskatchewan and Manitoba, although no province is immune. Ontario has the lowest rate of police-reported family violence incidents at 150 per 100,000 population, which still translates to over 20,000 incidents.

A 2012 study An Estimation of the Economic Impact of Spousal Violence in Canada, 2009 (Zhang, et al) for the Department of Justice Canada states that “including the impact borne by the justice system, the impact borne by primary victims and the impact borne by third parties and others, the total economic impact of spousal violence in Canada in 2009 is estimated at $7.4 billion, amounting to $220 per Canadian.… Victim costs ($6.0 billion) accounted for the largest proportion (80.7%) of the total economic impact for cost items such as medical attention, lost wages, lost education, the value of stolen/damaged property and pain and suffering…”

Provinces are increasingly responding to the costs of domestic violence through employers. In 2016 Manitoba amended its Employment Standards Code to include Domestic Violence Leave which entitled qualified employees to take both paid and unpaid leave to deal with the fallout of domestic violence against themselves of their children, including seeking medical or counselling services, participating in legal proceedings and relocation.

In Ontario Bill 26 – Domestic and Sexual Violence Workplace Leave, Accommodation and Training Act, 2016 was introduced in September 2016 and referred to committee in October 2016, where it remains. A private member’s Bill (M220) in British Columbia (Employment Standards (Domestic Violence Leave) Amendment Act, 2016) appears to have died on the order paper with the provincial election call.  Saskatchewan also has a private member’s Bill 604 – The Saskatchewan Employment (Support for Victims of Domestic Violence) Amendment Act, which was introduced on April 13, 2017. It has also been reported that the federal government is studying the issue with respect to federally-regulated employers.

Rather than wait for provincial legislation, unions are making such leaves an issue for collective bargaining. Unifor and the United Steelworkers have reached deals which include domestic violence leave. The UFCW and Unifor have each developed a bargaining guide to assist locals to make domestic violence a union and employer issue.

At first blush one might wonder why employers are being asked to shoulder a cost which is a complicated and multi-faceted social problem, however, there is some evidence that the costs of such a program to an employer would be minimal and the impact on employee morale and productivity would outweigh any cost. (See “Domestic Violence Leave a Small Cost to Employers but Priceless to Victims”, Fiona Smith, The Guardian, February 8, 2017).

Many employers will already have policies in place which may provide some assistance to employees who experience domestic violence, including sick leave, personal emergency or family responsibility leaves, employee assistance programs, jury duty or court witness leave and workplace violence, to name a few. Employers should review their policies to ensure that they are specifically sensitive to domestic violence situations.

But should employers still consider implementing a specific domestic violence leave policy? In consideration of this, it is important to remember that employers have a general duty to protect the health and safety of their workers and in most provinces there are specific regulations requiring employers to assess and prevent the risk of violence in the workplace. In Ontario and Manitoba this duty extends beyond the risk of violence arising out of employment to risks to workers from domestic violence which may occur in the workplace.  It is difficult, and may be near impossible for an employer to adequately protect its employees in this regard, if it does not know about the domestic violence risk posed.

A policy specifically providing domestic violence leave, even if there is no legislation requiring it, would not only provide employees with some protections and benefits during a crisis, but would have the indirect effect of providing the employer with key information to better assess risks of violence to employees in the workplace and to better protect their safety.

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HR PolicyPro

For further details see “Domestic Violence Leave” in Human Resources Policy Pro –Manitoba & Saskatchewan and look for future sample Domestic Violence Leave policies for other provinces as legislation develops.

Michele Glassford

President and Managing Editor at DRH and Lawyer at MacKinnon Law Associates
Michele Glassford, is a lawyer, researcher and policy analyst with a background in employment and labour law.In addition to a part-time law practice in Stoney Creek, Ontario, Michele has worked in the field of labour adjustment for the Health Sector Training and Adjustment Program and has been a Researcher for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. Michele also holds the position of President and Managing Editor at D.R. Hancocks & Associates Inc., author of the Human Resources PolicyPros. Read more
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