Kim Gibson’s husband would often sit outside her workplace and call her boss to complain. He was an annoyance, but no one, not even Gibson, saw it as a dangerous situation.
Later that day, when she left work, Gibson was stabbed 12 times by her abusive husband.
“When I took myself from the role of victim to survivor, that was a tough journey,” said Gibson, a domestic violence victims’ advocate. “It could have been a disaster in the workplace. It could have been a co-worker, and a far different outcome, and that’s a scary thought.”
Gibson’s story and many others like it have been brought to light with the first-ever Canadian study on domestic violence and the workplace. The initial findings of Can Work Be Safe, When Home Isn’t? was released this past week by Western’s Centre for Research & Education on Violence Against Women & Children (CREVAWC).
In conjunction with the Canadian Labour Congress and the Faculty of Information and Media Studies, CREVAWC director Peter Jaffe said the survey shows some sobering numbers when it comes to how women and men are dealing with domestic violence in the workplace.
For this survey, domestic violence was defined as any form of physical, sexual, emotional or psychological abuse – including financial control, stalking and harassment. It occurs between opposite- or same-sex intimate partners, who may or may not be married, common law or living together. It can also continue to happen after a relationship has ended.
“Domestic violence has an enormous cost in the workplace,” Jaffe said. “When we think about domestic violence, we think of the impact of victims, but more and more people are also talking about what it means to have a perpetrator in the workplace.”
With more than 8,400 participants in the survey, one third answered ‘yes’ when asked if they had experienced domestic violence in the workplace and, of those, 82 per cent said the violence negatively affected their work performance.
More than half said the violence continued at or near the workplace in the form of harassing emails, calls and texts, or stalking and physical violence. Almost 40 per cent said it kept them from getting to work, and for almost 10 per cent, it meant losing their job.
Canadian employers lose $77.9 million annually due to the direct and indirect impacts of domestic violence – and the costs, to individuals, families and society, go far beyond that, Jaffe said. He hopes this first-ever Canadian survey will get employers talking and government’s taking legislative action.
“Domestic violence doesn’t just stay at home any more, it follows people to the workplace and affects not just them, but the workplace and their co-workers,” Jaffe said. “This issue knows no bounds; it goes across all workplaces and it’s important that we recognize these issues. We’re coming a long way from somehow not wanting to bud into other people’s business. But, when it affects issues of personal safety and individual’s well-being, we need to.”
Jaffe added the education of all workers and providing the tools supports and safety pathways for victims, and perpetrators, is strongly needed.
“Knowing this is a problem, it’s not just educating HR personnel or managers, it’s everyone in the workplace,” he said. “Everyone has to know this issue because that’s where the disclosures are going to come from. The front-line defense is coworkers. This is everyone’s business. Being silent, not addressing the issue and not talking about it, endangers people in the workplace.”
Julie White, director of the women’s department at Unifor, the largest private union in Canada representing 305,000 members, including 86,000 women, said provincial and federal governments need to recognize the problem at hand.
“The labour movement is ready to take the lead and work with our employers to ensure people who experience domestic violence can easily access the help they need in the workplace,” White said. “We need to work toward an environment where everyone has a clear awareness of domestic violence.
“Improving the workplace response to domestic violence will require a multipronged approach by legislators, employers, unions and advocates to protect and support victims and assist perpetrators in changing their behaviour. Ultimately, preventing domestic violence, and its consequences, is a collective responsibility of all, and the workplace is a place where positive change can start to happen.”
Jaffe added the survey presents stronger evidence that will hopefully help shape legislation, policies and practices that promote violence prevention and safety in workplaces – holding abusers accountable for their behaviour and lifting the burden from victims so they need not deal with domestic violence alone.
Gibson said while there has been progress in addressing domestic violence in the workplace, there remains a long road ahead.
“We have to call it what it is, and we have to discuss it. In our personal life, and our work life, we all have a responsibility to help make a difference so other women don’t have to suffer,” she said. “We all need to work on this. Our workplaces can make a difference.”
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BY THE NUMBERS
Initial findings of Can Work Be Safe, When Home Isn’t? were released last week by Western’s Centre for Research & Education on Violence Against Women & Children (CREVAWC). Among the results, generated from more than 8,400 participants responding to 60 questions, were:
- 6 per cent reported experiencing domestic violence from an intimate partner;
- 4 per cent reported having at least one co-worker who they believe is experiencing, or has previously experienced domestic violence;
- 8 per cent reported having at least one co-worker who they believe is being abusive, or has previously been abusive, toward his/her partner;
- 5 per cent said domestic violence continued at work through either abusive phone calls or texts (40.6 per cent), stalking/harassment near the workplace (20.5 per cent) or abuser coming to the workplace (18.2 per cent);
- 38 per cent reported domestic violence affected their ability to get to work, with 8.5 per cent losing a job;
- 9 per cent reported domestic violence negatively affected their performance at work, most often due to being distracted, or feeling tired and/or unwell;
- 1 per cent reported their co-workers were stressed or concerned about the abusive situation;
- 2 per cent of those experiencing domestic violence reported they discussed it with someone at work; and
- 2 per cent reported positive things happened when they discussed their domestic violence in the workplace.
To learn more, and read the Can Work Be Safe, When Home Isn’t? survey, visit learningtoendabuse.ca.