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Working Wise: Preventing Family Violence

Dear Working Wise,

I’m worried about my friend at work. She’s distracted and nervous all the time. I know there are problems in her marriage and I suspect that her partner abusive, but she won’t leave him and it seems to be getting worse. She’s also close to losing her job, because she’s always away due to her stress. What can I do?
Signed, Worried at Work

November 2, 2017

Dear Worried,

No one likes to talk about family violence and most workplaces treat it as a private matter. But no matter how hard we try to ignore it, the effects of family violence creep into our workplaces, causing

  • higher turnover
  • lower productivity
  • higher absenteeism
  • higher workplace instability
  • increased risk of alcohol and drug abuse
  • increased risk of violence in the workplace

Unfortunately, Alberta has one of the highest rates of family violence among the provinces. The social, health, and criminal justice costs of family violence are estimated at more than $4 billion per year in Canada (Source: Statistics Canada).

Not many years ago, suspected alcohol and drug abuse was regarded as a private matter. When the links between substance abuse and productivity were clearly established, though, many workplaces responded with programs to help employees deal with these issues.

In a similar way, programs, resources and support offered in the workplace can play an important role in preventing family violence. Safety is the priority. If you or someone in the workplace is in immediate danger, call 911. Ideally, employers should have policies and procedures in place so that the workplace knows how to respond to staff that may be in a family violence situation.

As a supervisor or co-worker, you can offer support in the following ways:

  1. Name what you saw/heard, for example, “I noticed that you’ve been away from the office more than usual, and I am concerned about you. Is everything ok”?
  2. Acknowledge the danger. Don’t downplay the situation or suggest the person try harder.
  3. If your co-worker denies being abused, let them know that the door is open if they want to talk about their situation.
  4. Listen carefully without being judgmental.
  5. If they disclose abuse, tell them that you believe them and acknowledge their feelings.
  6. Let the person know that no one deserves to be abused, that family violence is a crime, and that they are not responsible for the abuser’s behaviour.
  7. Don’t offer advice or try to fix the situation.
  8. Encourage them to seek professional help through an employee-wellness programs or community family violence agency.
  9. Ask if they want your help accessing services, but respect their decision if they say “no”.
  10. Keep yourself safe – don’t confront the abusive person.

You can also help raise awareness of family violence resources:

  • Display information in your workplace about family violence services.
  • Sponsor a workplace event to raise awareness in November during Family Violence Prevention Month.

For more tips and advice:

The Alberta Council of Womens’ Shelters also offers an Employer Toolkit.

Photo Credit: © iStockphoto/creatista

Working Wise is a syndicated newspaper column prepared by the Government of Alberta to answer work-related questions from Albertans. Do you have a work-related question? You can send it to Charles Strachey (charles.strachey@gov.ab.ca), a manager with Alberta Community and Social Services.

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