Workplace violence: How can HR identify and eradicate abuse?

There's a silent epidemic raging – and your employees are suffering

Workplace violence: How can HR identify and eradicate abuse?

Would you be able to spot signs of violence in your workplace? And, if you did, would you know how to confront the situation effectively? A recent report from WomanACT found that violence against women extends way beyond the home, with incidents of aggression often spilling out into the workplace. Despite the silent pandemic raging on, women are still reluctant to report harassment and abuse to their HR departments – meaning violence often goes unnoticed and unchecked.

HRD spoke with Harmy Mendoza, executive director of WomanACT, who revealed why women are so uncomfortable in reporting workplace harassment – and explained what HR leaders can do to combat this epidemic.

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“Women can feel uncomfortable reporting workplace violence because of feelings of guilt or embarrassment around the harassment or because they fear they may not be believed or may face repercussions,” Mendoza told HRD. “This may be because they have seen past cases in which incidents have been reported and received with a poor or little response."

According to data from WomanACT, safety is the top reason employees are hesitant to report an unsafe or uncomfortable experience in the workplace. Women (41%) are significantly more likely to be hesitant than men (25%) to report incidents for fear of safety. What’s more, three in ten HR leaders said that the switch to remote and hybrid work is only compounding the already existing issue.

“Evidence has shown that harassment has increased for those working remotely as well as changed in nature,” added Mendoza. “This includes employees receiving sexual messages through email, text messages, workspace chat platforms or video calls. Working virtually has made it challenging to witness or monitor employee conduct in addition to their being a lack of information about how employees can intervene when working virtually.”

So, what can HR do? Well, according to Mendoza it all starts with education.

“An HR leader can combat violence by building capacity across their organization through training and policy,” she revealed. “From our experience, training can increase awareness as well as provide employees with skills on how to be an active bystander. HR leaders can also ensure that policies that prevent and respond to workplace violence are not just in place but are relevant and accessible for employees. A workplace safety survey or audit is another great tool that HR leaders can use to better understand the current culture of their workplace.”

As part of their commitment to eradicating workplace violence, WomanACT is also partnering with Uber Canada as part of Uber’s Driving Change Initiative.

“The sad reality is that one in three women will experience violence in their lifetime,” added Mendoza. “Violence against women often extends beyond the home, and when it does, it can extend into the workplace. Domestic violence and sexual harassment affect organizations of all sizes across all sectors.”

Read more: City of Toronto and TTC to mandate COVID 19 vaccinations for workers

HRD recently spoke with Workplace Safety & Prevention Services’ (WSPS) who explained the best ways employers in Canada can identify and end workplace violence and abuse. Read our full profile interview here.

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