Domestic Violence in the Workplace

Most people think of violence as a physical assault. However, workplace violence is a much broader problem.

It is any act in which a person is abused, threatened, intimidated or assaulted in his or her employment. These are all examples of workplace violence1:

  • Rumours
  • Swearing, arguments and verbal abuse
  • Pranks
  • Property damage and vandalism
  • Sabotage
  • Pushing and physical assaults
  • Theft
  • Psychological trauma
  • Anger-related incidents
  • Rape
  • Arson
  • Murder

Domestic violence is a behaviour pattern used by one person to gain power and control over another with whom they have or have had an intimate relationship. It can include any of the above forms of violent behaviours. There are additional dimensions to violence in a domestic relationship that are unique, such as:

  • using property, pets, or children to threaten and intimidate,
  • economic abuse such as withholding or stealing money, stopping a partner from reporting to work, or from getting or keeping a job, or
  • sexual, spiritual, or emotional abuse.

Anyone can be a victim of domestic violence, regardless of age, race, religion, sexual orientation, economic status, or educational background. The abuser may be a current or former spouse or intimate partner, relative, or friend. Men and women can both be abused or abusive in their relationships.

Yes. When domestic violence follows a victim to work, it becomes a workplace issue. An aggressor can present a risk to the victim or others in the workplace itself. 

You may have heard people say “domestic violence is a personal matter”, “it’s none of my business” or “that’s between a husband and wife”, for example. These attitudes further isolate people experiencing domestic violence. They create a barrier between the victim and those who may be in a position to provide valuable support and assistance.

The workplace can play an important role between people experiencing violence of any kind, and assisting individuals to get the necessary help.

People experiencing domestic violence often feel isolated. They may feel ashamed, or have concerns that their situation will compromise their employment. As a result they are afraid to say anything. Similarly, those who suspect domestic violence may be affecting an employee are afraid to intervene for many reasons. This further isolation increases the risk to those who experience domestic violence.

In addition, people experiencing domestic violence often have difficulty getting to work. They state that their work performance is negatively affected. Other implications for the workplace include:

  • reduced productivity and motivation
  • decreased worker morale
  • potential harm to employees, co-workers and/or clients
  • increased replacement, recruitment and training costs if victims are dismissed for poor performance or absenteeism
  • strained co-worker relations

Some jurisdictions expressly include domestic violence within occupational health and safety legislation, while others do not.

However, it is the employer’s general duty across all jurisdictions to ensure all employees have a safe and healthy workplace. This includes protecting all employees from risk of domestic violence in the workplace.

A supportive and accommodating workplace provides the victim an opportunity to establish financial independence. It also provides victims access to the help they need in their unique situation.

As part of their workplace violence prevention policy, employers should also take responsibility to:

  • Identify Warning Signs
  • Establish a support network
  • Develop a Safety Plan​
  1. Government of Canada. (2020). Violence in the Workplace. Canadian Centre for Occupational Health & Safety. ↩︎