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Domestic violence may be looming over your workplace. Are you ready to protect employees?

Domestic violence may be looming over your workplace. Are you ready to protect employees?

A recent article published in WSPS’ eNews highlights the importance of protecting employees from domestic violence. This pervasive threat may be looming over some of your employees and your workplace. Do you have policies and processes to protect them from this hazard and the psychological impact after an incident?

[Read: What to do when domestic violence enters your workplace]

It can be challenging to know if your employees are being victimized, and easy to assume domestic violence isn’t affecting your team, especially from afar. However, statistics show that approximately 33% of employees are at risk, and 54% say it has followed them into the workplace.

It isn’t always a case of men being violent toward women. Women also abuse men and LGBTQ couples experience domestic violence at equal or higher rates than heterosexual couples.

When it permeates your workplace, domestic violence can take a significant toll on employees’ mental and physical health. It impacts performance, productivity, absenteeism, and morale and can cost your business thousands of dollars. In fact, Canadian businesses lose $77.9 M to domestic violence every year.

As an employer, you have a duty to protect employees from all forms of mental harm and physical injury, including workplace violence and harassment. To do so, you must have the necessary policies in place and train employees so they feel confident and equipped to follow them if an incident occurs.  But more than that, your caring and kindness, and commitment to creating a safe work environment can go a long way toward breaking through barriers with employees who are at risk. 

For over 35 years, I have seen kind souls end up in emergency wards several times before having the courage to ask for help. Leaders who have not experienced violence or abuse cannot imagine how much fear is involved and how it drives survival behaviours.

Following are some additional steps to create a safe space and support those exposed to violence in your workplace.

Become a trusted leader. Build rapport and trust with all your employees. If they know you are committed to their safety, they will be more apt to ask for help when needed.

Don’t avoid talking about this risk. Taking moments to pause and reflect on real-life challenges like mental health, suicide, and domestic violence won’t worsen things. You are creating pathways to protect your employees and make it clear you are there if needed and can assist them in getting help.

Train employees to facilitate a safe and respectful workplace. The Bystander Effect can create social confusion that prevents people from intervening in an emergency. You can address this by providing practical, safe, and respectful workplace training that educates employees on incivility, outlines policies, and promotes being an upstander. Upstanders prevent harm by calling the police and lending support until help arrives.

Make it clear that under NO CIRCUMSTANCES should employees try to intervene physically. There is no way to know if a predator has a gun or a knife. These individuals often operate in a rage; they are not rational and can move from calm to extreme violence without notice. Your policies and training should provide clear direction on what to do if employees witness domestic violence or believe a colleague is at risk—on-site or in remote situations. 

Be honest about your readiness to support employees victimized by domestic violence and take the necessary training. You may be the first person to notice someone is in trouble. Training to become a psychologically safe leader includes learning to fulfill your duty to inquire. Also learn how to build an effective plan to protect the individual and other employees.

[Access the WSPS Violence and Harassment Toolbox.]

There are three pillars to an effective plan:

  1. Detection: Once domestic violence is suspected, you should activate your plan — typically with HR — to protect the worker, other employees, and customers from the risk of violence. The steps you take will depend on the situation and perceived level of danger. It may simply involve calling the police to do a wellness check or could go as far as helping the employee get to a safe house. It is about doing whatever is necessary to get the person out of harm’s way.

  2. Stabilization: Become  a trauma-informed workplace so you possess the knowledge and skills to understand how trauma can negatively impact the individual, their peers and the business as a whole. Connect the employee with the necessary support systems, such as EFAP, psychologists, medical doctors, or shelters, and allow them to take the time they need away from work. The goal is to stabilize the person.

  3. Re-entry: Shame and stigma accompany domestic violence. Trust leaders understand they must keep others informed and engage them in assisting with their co-worker’s re-entry appropriately, without disclosing confidential information. The quicker the employee can return to a caring workplace and build a new normal, the better. Depending on their mental health, they may return to work gradually and need time off work for therapy. Work with the team to help them return confidently. Whether they’ve missed days or months from work, they will need support. 

Create a lifeline for employees in great despair


When you are open and clear that you care about your employees and want to protect them from risks like domestic violence, you are role-modelling the behaviour that all employees should adopt – one that reflects a caring and supportive culture and a zero-tolerance stance on violence and harassment. By building this foundation, you are creating a lifeline for employees who may be in great despair.


Additional resources


The WSPS eNews article outlines steps to protect employees, including providing training, watching and listening for signs in person and on phone calls and virtual meetings, being a trusted confidant, and directing those at risk to outside sources.

  • sheltersafe.ca - connects women with the nearest shelter for safety and support

  • Crisis Text Line - connects people in crisis to trained responders 24/7

  • MyPlan Canada - a free app to help those who are experiencing partner abuse

  • 911

Get to know the author – Dr. Bill Howatt



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