How to spot domestic violence at work

Would you know what to do if you thought your colleague was in trouble?

How to spot domestic violence at work
A recent study from Unifor found that one third of the workers they interviewed indicated that they had suffered from domestic violence.

After polling 8,429 Canadian employees, 82% said the violence negatively affected their career performance, with 40% claiming it had prevented them from getting to their workplace. 10% of those asked, said domestic violence had lost them their job.

We spoke to Anuradha Dugal, director of violence prevention programs at the Canadian Women's Foundation, who revealed to us the size of the issue at hand.

“Domestic violence can be a difficult thing to spot,” she explained.

“There aren’t always physical signs, which is important to note. It’s essentially a noticeable change, in one way or another, that draws the attention of colleagues. It might be that they keep taking certain days off, or they’re lacking concentration and focus.”

However, as Dugal reminds us, domestic violence doesn’t always manifest in the way you’d image.

“It doesn’t always follow that someone experiencing domestic abuse will be unable to work – sometimes it’s quite the opposite. There are some women who experience domestic violence at home and feel as if the workplace is their safe space. It’s the place they don’t have to feel so worried.”

Employers can spot signs of domestic abuse by paying attention to their staff, and fostering a culture of communication. Often, colleagues may suspect something is not quite right at home, but may not see the full extent of the damage being caused.

Dugal told us that some revealing signs that abuse is occurring include partners who call the office incessantly, or make the victim feel as if they’re being watched and controlled. Other signs may include employees regularly coming in late or taking specific days off. If you suspect one of your colleagues is experiencing domestic violence, it’s important you approach the situation delicately.

“It’s essential that you approach the employee, if you suspect abuse, in a way that won’t add to her pre-existing level of stress,” said Dugal. “You shouldn’t tell her what to do, you should ask. You could offer to accompany her to a place where she can talk about it with a professional, or ask if she wants to talk about it with you.

“If a woman says, ‘no I’m fine’, you can keep on asking, just make sure you don’t come across as intimidating or nosy. It’s an incredibly delicate situation to nuance.

“More proactive things you can do range from looking up shelters or registered charities that could help, counselling services and learning courses. Understanding what domestic abuse is, educating yourself on it and what it looks like, is a good place to start.”

Related stories:
Ontario floats 17 weeks of leave for abuse victims
Legislation proposes new rules around domestic violence


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