Domestic violence – a workplace issue

Domestic violence is costing businesses millions each year in Canada. How can you limit the impact on your company and help support employees who may be victims of abuse?

Domestic violence – a workplace issue

One in five Canadians have experienced abuse in their homes, and the majority who are subjected to domestic violence are in some form of paid employment. It is foreseeable then that such violence will affect workplaces.

However, if statistics from a recent SHRM survey are anything to go by, only a minority of organisations are prepared.* Slightly more than one third (35%) of organisations have a formal policy addressing domestic violence, and just one fifth have formal workplace training that addresses the issue. This is despite the fact that 35% of workplaces had been affected by an employee who was victim to domestic violence, either in the past year or the past five years.

Domestic violence impacts the workplace in diverse ways, according to Holly Carrington, spokesperson for Shine – a charity that supports victims of abuse. They range from the abusive family member harassing the victim at their workplace, placing them and their colleagues at risk, to less acute issues, such as the victim frequently being late or absent, and being stressed and anxious at work.

The impact on business is quantifiable. For instance, a study conducted by the Inter-American Development Bank found that the cost of domestic violence for Canadian businesses was $1.6 billion per year, including medical care and lost productivity.

“It’s really in the employer’s best interest to have a good response and to make it easy and safe for the employee to get the support that they need,” said Carrington. 

Apart from avoiding the financial impact, employers accrue many benefits in supporting staff who are victims of abuse. These include less absenteeism and staff turnover, better morale and productivity, and the maintenance of their reputation as a good employer. But what can they do?  Carrington believes that every workplace should have an HR policy that deals with responding to domestic violence. “Employees need to feel safe, that they can confide in a manager or a HR specialist when they are being victimised and not suffer any repercussions, and hopefully get a supportive response,” she said.

Carrington also stressed the importance of educating other staff on domestic violence.  “A lot of the myths that are out there are real victim-blaming attitudes, so if that is pervasive in the workplace then that is going to be another barrier,” she explained. Employers and HR practitioners can use newsletters, the intranet, and posters to destigmatise family violence and to create a safe and supportive environment so that victims aren’t deterred from confiding in their colleagues.

*787 HR professionals, randomly selected from SHRM’s membership participated in the survey, which was conducted between 22 October and 9 November 2012.

Key HR Takeaways:

  • Implement a formal HR policy that deals with responding to domestic violence.
  • Educate staff on domestic violence to explode myths on the subject and create a supportive environment.
  • Resources available:
    The Ministry of Labour has a guide for employers:[] and WorkSafe BC has an online resource, including examples of how to talk to employees who may be exeriencing domestic violence: [].

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