Many people find it hard to talk about family violence, even with close friends. At work, it’s often treated as a private matter. But family violence, also known as domestic violence, can affect everyone in the workplace—employers, employees, co–workers and clients.
When we respond as though family violence is “none of our business,” we fail to support the people we work with who may be facing this issue every day. As a result, both victims and abusers may feel isolated, ashamed and unwilling or unable to help themselves.
Alberta has the third highest rate of reported spousal violence in Canada. As a society, we all pay the price for family violence through increased social, health and criminal justice costs, which are estimated to be at least $7.4 billion per year in Canada.
Family violence is everyone’s business.
If you or someone you know is in immediate danger, phone 911.
What is family violence?
Family violence is the abuse of power within relationships of family, trust or dependency that endangers the survival, security or well–being of another person. It can include many forms of abuse:
- spouse abuse
- senior abuse and neglect
- child abuse and neglect
- child sexual abuse
- parent abuse
- witnessing the abuse of others in the family
Family violence may involve some or all of the following behaviours:
- physical abuse
- psychological and/or emotional abuse
- sexual abuse
- criminal harassment and/or stalking
- verbal abuse
- financial abuse
- spiritual abuse
Why is family violence a workplace issue?
Both victims and abusers bring the issues of family violence to their workplace where it affects performance, safety and the bottom line.
- Performance: Employees living in violent homes may be absent more often and have lower individual productivity. Co–workers also feel the effect through increased workload and stress.
- Safety: Violent family members may threaten the safety of everyone in the workplace, not only their victims. Tired, stressed victims or those relying on medication and other substances to cope can put both themselves and their co–workers at risk.
- The bottom line: The personal well-being of employees is important to an organization’s success. Addressing an issue that affects productivity and safety makes good business sense. Family violence hurts everyone.
What are the signs of family violence?
A victim of family violence may show some of the following signs:
- Injuries like bruises, black eyes or broken bones, often explained as "falls," "accidents" or "being clumsy."
- Unusual appearance, such as long-sleeves or turtlenecks in summer, or heavy makeup.
- Increased number of texts, phone calls or emails.
- Strong reactions to calls and messages or unwillingness to talk with the caller.
- Disruptive visits to the workplace by a current or former partner.
- More frequent absences or lateness.
- Poor concentration, more errors, slowness or inconsistent work quality.
- Anxiety, fear, emotional distress or depression.
How can you help?
As a supervisor or co–worker of someone being abused, you can offer support in the following ways:
- Respectfully check out the situation.
You might say something like, "I've noticed you seem distracted lately and not like your usual self. I’m worried about you and wonder how I can help."
- If a co–worker talks about the abuse, listen.
Show concern and be supportive. You might say: "I'm concerned for your safety." "No one deserves to be abused."
- Help the person access information.
Let the person know that family violence is a crime and encourage the person to seek protection from the law. Provide information about company and community resources.
- Check immediate and longer–term safety.
Ask if the person has a way to be safe right now. Suggest a safety plan or connect the person to someone who can help with safety planning.
- Respect the person’s right to make decisions.
It takes time for people to realize they are being abused or are being abusive and then to decide the best thing to do about it. Don't tell the person what to do. Respect the person’s ability and responsibility for making decisions when they are ready.
- Stay safe.
Do not confront an abusive person or intervene physically with them. If someone is violent, call security or the police. If an abused person chooses to leave the relationship, make sure the person knows this is an extremely high–risk time. Provide support and suggest that the person get help from police or another knowledgeable source to plan for safety.
- Follow up.
Offer to go with the person to your company's human resources department or a supervisor to inform them of the situation. They may be able to suggest resources in the organization or the community. They also may be able to offer flexibility in the person's schedule to help them deal with the situation at home.
If you're an employer or union leader, consider taking the following 4 steps:
- Practice prevention.
Lead by example. Deal with everyone, from employees to clients, with respect. Promote and follow your organization's zero–tolerance policy for abuse or bullying.
Offer awareness and education programs and resources to supervisors and employees. Ensure all supervisors and staff know how to recognize family violence, how to respond and where to get help. Make information and resources available.
Ensure employees know about your employee assistance program, if you have one. Provide connections to resources in the community, such as shelters, counselling and programs for abusers. Offer direct support, such as reasonable time off to deal with the effects of violence or a no–discipline approach to absenteeism or productivity problems caused by family violence.
- Develop policy and procedure.
Support personal safety and violence prevention of all kinds, including safety audits and critical incident and emergency response procedures.
Support family violence prevention
As awareness of the harm family violence causes continues to grow, the workplace offers many opportunities to make a difference. Family violence prevention will become a reality when each of us starts to take responsibility for our own safety and the safety of those we work with.
If you suspect that a child may be abused, neglected or exposed to family violence, phone the Child Abuse Hotline at 1–800–387–KIDS (5437) or call the police.
For information about family violence resources available in your community, phone the 24–hour Family Violence Info Line at 310–1818, toll–free in Alberta, or visit Family Violence to find support and services.
For information for employers about family violence in the workplace, download the publication Family Violence and the Workplace.
The Alberta Council of Women’s Shelters is a provincewide, voluntary organization supporting women’s shelters and their partner agencies through education, research and services for the benefit of abused women and their children.