OHS Canada Magazine

Survey examines effects of domestic violence at work

December 16, 2013

Health & Safety Injury, Illness Prevention Mental Health Stress Violence in the Workplace

(Canadian OH&S News)

(Canadian OH&S News)

The Canadian Labour Congress (CLC), a national umbrella organization for unions and labour councils, is collaborating with the University of Western Ontario’s Centre for Research and Education on Violence against Women and Children (CREVAWC) to examine the effects of domestic violence on Canadian workers and workplaces.

Inspired by a similar project previously undertaken by the Australian Domestic and Family Violence Clearinghouse at the University of New South Wales, the anonymous nationwide online survey, Domestic Violence in the Canadian Workplace, is open to all workers more than 15 years old in Canada, regardless of whether they have experienced or witnessed domestic violence in their lives. The survey takes between 10 and 30 minutes to complete, according to the CLC.

“We know that it has quite a profound effect,” Barb MacQuarrie, the CREVAWC’s community director, said about how domestic violence affects work, based on past research. “We have a whole range of impacts. We have impacts on the victim, we have impacts on the co-workers and we have impacts on the whole work environment. If you want to break them down into big categories, you have safety concerns and you have productivity concerns.”

In addition to the standard questions about age range, gender and ethnicity, the survey asks such questions as: “Are you currently experiencing domestic violence from a current or past intimate partner?”; “Did you experience domestic violence in the workplace in any of the following ways?” (such as abusive emails or phone calls or physical stalking); and “Have you recognized [the listed] warning signs that a co-worker, past or present, may be experiencing domestic violence?” It also inquires as to whether the respondent has seen certain warning signs that a present or past co-worker may have been a perpetrator.


“There’s an impasse of not just having a victim in the workplace, but also having an offender in the workplace,” MacQuarrie added. According to a recent American study, she explained, “about 80 per cent of offenders are, while at work, contacting their partners or ex-partners. So they’re using workers’ resources to abuse, whether it’s time, communication networks or company vehicles. We have workplace resources going towards this activity of harassing and intimidating partners.”

Survey had 850 responses before official launch

According to CLC executive vice-president Barbara Byers, the Australian survey’s results led to changes in that country’s work legislation, including special paid leave for people with medical, legal, psychological or family difficulties connected to domestic violence.

“What comes out of our survey is going to really help direct our work,” Byers said, “in terms of collective bargaining changes, but also in terms of legislative changes that are needed to protect people that aren’t in a unionized environment. Because we’re not looking just to changes in unionized workplaces; we want to be sure every worker has protections when they’re dealing with domestic violence.”

Byers said that the survey, which became active on Dec. 3, had already accumulated about 850 responses before its official launch two days later. “We want to get a full response from as many workers as possible, in as many workplaces as possible,” she said.

The Canadian survey — the first of its kind in the country — will be open until June 6, after which the CREVAWC will tabulate the results and, in partnership with the CLC, use them to lobby for legislative changes.

MacQuarrie noted that Ontario and Manitoba are the only two provinces with legislation that makes employers responsible for protecting and supporting employees who are victims.

“We need that legislation across the board, and the legislation we do have needs to be strengthened as well,” MacQuarrie said.

Domestic Violence in the Canadian Workplace is accessible in English or French at http://fluidsurveys.com/s/dvatwork/.


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