Workers Experiencing Domestic Violence

December 14, 2017

We often ask ourselves, “Why would someone stay in an abusive relationship?” It’s hard to leave if you don’t have an income. Keeping your job can make the difference between escaping from, or remaining trapped in, a violent relationship. The term family violence includes neglect, along with physical, sexual, emotional/verbal and financial abuse.

Domestic violence almost always makes its way into the workplace in some shape or form. It’s almost impossible to not let your personal life affect your work life, especially in such drastic and upsetting situations. Often, domestic violence follows victims to work in the form of abusive phone calls or text messages, threatening emails, stalking and harassment. Some abusers try to get their victims fired and some kill their victims at work. On Oct 30, 2015, Camille Runke was shot by her ex—partner at close range with a shotgun outside her workplace in Winnipeg.

Ensuring employees are protected with an action plan at work, and supported if they need to take time off work, can help make it easier for them to leave the relationship. When you’re escaping violence there’s a whole range of things you need to take care of. You might need to go to a doctor, a counsellor, go to the bank to open a new account, try to find a safe place to live, move house, get your children away from a dangerous situation, go to appointments with a lawyer, see the police to make statements, or go to court.

If we are, as a community, going to seriously deal with family violence then we need to understand that being able to keep a job and having a sympathetic employer are fundamental for getting out of an abusive situation. In a CBC Poll, when asked “Do you believe there are enough supports for victims of family violence in Canada?”, 79.23% of respondents said “No.” 13.25% said “I don’t know.” Only 7.52% said “Yes.”

Every five days, a woman in Canada is killed by her partner or former partner. In 2013, according to Statistics Canada, Nunavut and the NWT had the highest rates of police-reported family violence. In 2015, four out of five homicides in the NWT involved family or intimate partner violence. Women are more likely than men to be killed by their spouse or partner. Overall, women – particularly indigenous women – are at higher risk for family violence. 73% of Canadian women and children who seek emergency shelter are turned away.

Unions are advocating for domestic violence leave to be included in collective agreements and in Employment Standards legislation. Thanks in large part to lobbying by the Canadian Labour Congress, the Manitoba government passed legislation giving workers up to five days of paid time off, five days of unpaid time off and an additional unpaid leave of up to 17 weeks. The law stands out, as it guarantees paid leave for every worker in the province, not just those belonging to a union. Ontario is looking at doing likewise. Supporting legislation providing leave for domestic violence is the right thing to do.

Knowing they will be supported, especially during difficult life transitions or situations, can alleviate a worker’s stress and trauma. It will make it easier to come to work knowing it is a safe haven that provides support, rather than a place where one needs to hide any issues.

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