Study: Domestic violence affects victims, offenders in the workplace

Cory Habermehl // Western NewsEducation professor Barb MacQuarrie teamed up with researchers at the University of Toronto to examine the experience of domestic violence offenders to gain a well-rounded understanding of the carryover effects of domestic violence in the workplace. Released this week, the study is a follow-up to a 2014 study that looked at the extent to which domestic violence follows victims to the workplace.

Employers cannot ignore violence spilling out of the home and into the workplace and must move to offer supports for both victims and offenders, according to a Western researcher at the centre of a study looking into domestic violence’s impact in the workplace.

Education professor Barb MacQuarrie teamed up with researchers at the University of Toronto to examine the experiences of domestic violence offenders to gain a two-sided understanding of the effects of domestic violence in the workplace. Released this week, the study is a follow-up to a 2014 study that looked at how domestic violence follows victims into the workplace.

What researchers have now is the most complete picture of domestic violence carryover impact into the workplace – findings that offer some solutions to the rising issue.

“We are all part of the problem. If you are in a large organization, you have many victims and many offenders because, when you statistically look at the population and what’s happening, there’s no way to avoid that,” said MacQuarrie, Community Director of Western’s Centre for Research & Education on Violence Against Women & Children (CREVAWC).

“This is a problem that goes across all social strata. We need to acknowledge this is part of what workplaces deal with, and we need to recognize warning signs and risk factors and respond to that.”

Working with 22 of Ontario’s Partner Assault Response programs, researchers at UofT’s Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE) partnered with CREVAWC and conducted a survey of 500 perpetrators of domestic violence. Respondents came from all parts of the province. The vast majority were men in heterosexual relationships who were identified as having perpetrated domestic violence and who were referred to intervention by the criminal justice system.

“Domestic violence is a prevalent social problem. Those who perpetrate this violence are our co-workers, our supervisors and those working under our supervision,” added Tim Kelly, Executive Director of Changing Ways, Partner Assault Response Program in London. “This means our prevention and our intervention plans must address those who perpetrate domestic violence, as well as victims.”

The survey found perpetration of domestic violence is associated with substantial negative effects on the productivity and safety of workers with close to half of respondents reporting violence issues negatively affected their job performance.

“These studies clearly document the effects of domestic violence on workplaces that fail to address the distress, distraction, anger and preoccupation workers experience in association with these issues,” said Katreena Scott, Canada Research Chair in Family Violence Prevention and Intervention at OISE.

One-third of respondents reported being in contact with their partner or ex-partner during work hours to engage in behaviours that were emotionally abusive or to monitor the victims actions or whereabouts. Of men who engaged in these behaviours, a quarter used their workplace time to drop by the home or workplace of their victims. Roughly 20 per cent indicated their co-workers were aware of these behaviours.

Nearly a tenth of respondents reported they caused, or almost caused, a work accident as a result of being distracted or preoccupied by these issues. About 25 per cent indicated violence issues led to difficulties getting to, and staying at work, and the same percentage reported taking paid time off work to deal with domestic violence issues.

It was important to consider the same behaviours and workplace effects for both victims and offenders, MacQuarrie added, in order to get both sides of the same story.

Nearly half of the offender respondents said the climate of their workplaces was closed, unsupportive and unfair when it came to dealing with domestic violence issues. The majority of respondents indicated they did not know, or were unsure of, any resources available to them in the workplace to help them deal with domestic violence issues. Only a third reported talking about their domestic violence issues with people at work.

The survey also found men were often reluctant to talk about this issue due to concerns about losing their jobs. More than one-quarter reported losing their job as a direct or indirect result of domestic violence issues. Many commented these issues have made it more difficult to seek new work.

But this study isn’t meant to encourage employers to dismiss offenders of domestic violence, MacQuarrie stressed.

“We’re not doing this work to say to employers, ‘You have offenders in your workplace and you need to get them out.’ We don’t believe that is an appropriate response at all. There is a more appropriate way to deal with this; there is a real opportunity in the workplace to hold people accountable for their behaviour – but it’s not through firing them,” she said.

“First of all, when domestic violence is occurring, unemployment is a serious risk factor for the severity of domestic violence to increase. And you’ve lost any relationship with that person, any possibility of having an influence or modeling different behaviour.”

Workplaces need to implement policies about how they’re going to address offenders – and those policies need not be zero tolerance as they do more harm than good, researchers warned. Instead, treatment and support are a more sustainable solution. The workplace can help accommodate someone who needs to attend a weekly support group, MacQuarrie added.

Employers need to be trained to recognize risk factors and warning signs and need to have appropriate responses in place when they arise. While it isn’t the employer’s responsibility to make someone leave a violent situation – or to demand someone stop a certain kind of behaviour – they do have a responsibility to indicate what won’t be tolerated at work.

“We don’t want anyone to see this as a problem of having victims in the workplace. And we do not want to see this as a women’s problem at all. We need to know workplaces have many victims and many offenders who are part of our community and some of them are making valuable contributions – we don’t want to lose them,” MacQuarrie noted.

“With these kinds of problems of relationship violence, historically, our response has been to ignore them, to put them outside of the purview of what we address at work. We can’t afford to do that anymore because we know from the study it’s impacting productivity and safety at work. The cost of ignoring it is too big,” she said.

“We’re not trying to make offenders ‘the other.’ We’re not trying to place them outside our community. We’re trying to see them as community members who are struggling, who don’t know where to turn. They know their lives aren’t good, that their relationships at work and at home need to be improved. They don’t know where to start with that. We need training in the workplace to address and support survivors and we want to expand that now to support offenders in the workplace.”