How domestic violence seeps into the workplace

Researchers interviewed 500 men who abused their partners

Original Article: CBC News | Oct. 26, 2017

It is difficult to keep violence at home from having a deep and negative impact at work for both the victims and the perpetrators, says a new study. 

Researchers at the University of Toronto and Western University spoke with 500 men, all perpetrators of domestic violence. The men came from all across Ontario and worked in a variety of jobs. Most were in heterosexual relationships. 

The CBC's Conrad Collaco spoke with Katreena Scott of the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education at U of T., a researcher on the study. Here's an edited and abridged transcript of that conversation. You can listen to the full interview in the player at the top of this page.

Katreena Scott, Canada Research Chair in Family Violence Prevention and Intervention at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education 

Q: What did you learn about how the men in the study continued their abusive behaviour at their partner's workplace?

We found a number of different ways that happened. One-third of the men reported that they used workplace time and resources to continue to engage in emotionally abusive behaviour.

For example, saying something deliberately hurtful, degrading or intimidating to their partner or ex-partner. Or, using workplace time or resources to monitor her behaviour. For example, stopping by her home or workplace to make sure she was where she said she was going to be. 

A second way was in the impact on productivity. Men reported that they felt distracted and had difficulty concentrating as a result of their domestic violence perpetration and the distress around that. They talked about missing days of work, having trouble getting to work or staying at work and being irritable and angry. They were not proud of the way they were able to work because they were so distracted and distressed by these issues.

Almost one in ten men reported that they caused or almost caused a workplace accident as a result of being distressed or pre-occupied by the domestic violence issues. A number of men talked about damageing equipment or dropping loads of very heavy materials. 

One man talked about being assigned to patients in a medical setting talked about incorrectly administering medication to one of the patients.

Were you surprised that domestic violence extended into the workplace?

I was not. I think we sometimes have this view that work and home are entirely separate.

'It did surprise me the number of men who said they used workplace time and resources to physically drop by a partner's home or workplace to engage in abusive behaviour.'- Katreena Scott, researcher

That's an artificial separation. It did surprise me the number of men who said they used workplace time and resources to physically drop by a partner's home or workplace to engage in abusive behaviour.

That surprised me because that type of behaviour is going to be visible to her co-workers and his. 

A lot of men said their workplaces were not open or fair or supportive. About half said that if they talked about domestic violence their workplaces wouldn't want to hear about that. As a result, only about one of three men talk to a co-worker or manager about these issues. 

Q: What did you learn about how the work of the women who were the victims of domestic violence was affected?

Important question. This study was the second of two. The first study, in 2014, learned that the women who were victims, their workplaces were impacted by their own distress.

Their co-workers were also impacted. There were impacts on productivity, on missed days of work and on feelings of distress.

Q: What kind of support in the workplace exists for women who are victims of domestic violence?

We need to think about the workplace policies, educations and supports for both victims and perpetrators. Some of the work we are doing now is to try to think about how we make sure victims of violence are safe in the workplace. We need to make sure our workplaces are equipped to have conversations about domestic violence.

How do workplaces partner with community resources so that perpetrators of domestic violence get the help they need to change. 

Q: What happened to the men you spoke with when their employer found out about their domestic violence charge?

About one quarter of the men reported that they lost their job as a result of the domestic violence charge either directly or indirectly. Direct results are easier to understand. The employer finds out that the man has potentially been involved with police as a result of domestic violence and their employment is terminated.

A number of men talked about that if they were working contract to contract, when the community found out, they weren't able to get any other work.

Also, men talked about losing their job because they were missing too many days of work, they were too distracted or their productivity was too low as a result of the domestic violence.  

We need a range of different responses to domestic violence so that we can intervene early and give employers a range of tools they can use. When we asked men if workplaces should be involved, they were divided. Those who said yes thought workplaces needed more information and needed to keep an open mind and be more supportive and helpful. 

Did you see a difference in the way employers reacted to perpetrators of domestic violence based on the kind of work that was being done?

There was no difference depending on if the person was a worker or supervisor, or depending on the kind of job they had. If the worker was unionized that had an effect on if they lost their job immediately or not. The vast majority of men, in unionized or non-unionized environments, were not aware of any resources that might be available to them to help address domestic violence.

We also wanted to know if it was just the charge against them that was the cause of their drop in productivity. We found that the degree and level of impact in terms of lost days of work, being late, distracted or pre-occupied was just as great before the men were charged as it was after. So this is not about a domestic violence charge. This is about domestic violence perpetration in the work place.

What changes are you hoping take place in the workplace as a result of this research?  

We're finally starting to have conversations about sexual harassment and bullying in the workplace. We need to include the voices of perpetrators in that conversation. If we want to make women and children safer we have to start talking to perpetrators. Workplaces need resources and education. What do you do if you see a co-worker whose behaviour is concerning to you?  How do you have a conversation about that behaviour?

What suggestions do you have for someone who would like to have that conversation with a co-worker?

The first thing is, have the conversation. Call out the bad behaviour. We can do that and say 'this is not ok.' Then link the person to the kind of resources they might need. It's important to have policies that are graded, not just one response — 'you're fired.'  We need to ask, 'How do we support workplaces and managers with the resources to have these conversations?'