London study explored domestic violence and work

Original Article by: London Free Press | 28 November 2014

Abusive phone calls, texts and e-mails at work.
The stress of hiding a bruise.
The uncertainty of what’s waiting when you get home.

Advocates have long known domestic violence has a damaging fallout on Canadian workers.

But for the first time ever in Canada, a landmark study led by London researchers has now put numbers to the stories about how domestic violence follows employees into the workplace.

The Western study, based on an online survey of more than 8,000 Canadians, found more than one-third of workers say they’ve experienced domestic violence.

Of those, more than half say the issue has also followed them to work — hurting their performance and, in some cases, even costing them their job.

It’s a clear sign the implications of domestic violence extend beyond those directly involved, said Peter Jaffe, a professor in Western’s education faculty and the academic director of Western University’s Centre for Research and Education of Violence Against Women and Children.

“I think we’ve reached a tipping point, he said Thursday.

“We know that domestic violence has implications for the workplace and for employers, and that companies have a corporate responsibility. We’re no longer putting our heads in the sand.”

Jaffe said the centre’s study, the largest of its kind in the world, should be an eye-opener to many.

“People don’t believe the numbers until they see it,” he said.

One impetus for the survey was the 2005 murder of Lori Dupont, a nurse at a Windsor hospital who was stabbed to death by an anesthesiologist while working in the Hotel-Dieu Grace hospital. An inquest heard how Marc Daniel harassed Dupont at work before he killed her and took his own life.

It wasn’t the only Southwestern Ontario case to ripple far and wide.

In 1996, Theresa Vince was gunned down by her supervisor at the Sears store in Chatham. More than a year earlier, she’d reported she was sexually harassed by her boss, Russell Davis, but nothing was done.

After the Dupont case, researchers discovered they didn’t have Canadian data on how domestic violence affects the workplace.

The survey, conducted with the Canadian Labour Congress, is expected to be used to help employers, workers, advocates and government to develop supports for workers and policy to deal with the issue.

“Domestic violence has become a part of our every day conversation — whether it’s in the Canadian Parliament, the CBC, the NFL, and the reality is that we haven’t had any Canadian numbers to back up what people who work with domestic violence survivors already know,” Jaffe said.

Advocates have pushed to have potection against violence and sexual harassment included in provincial workplace safety laws, as Ontario amended its in the fallout of the two Southwestern Ontario deaths.

It’s time workers and employers talk openly about domestic violence and its effects, Jaffe said.

“We talk about the weather, the snow, the Maple Leafs, but not about domestic violence. Ultimately, we want co-workers to be able to talk to each other that is supportive and non-judgmental.”

Men – more often perpetrators than victims – must also learn to talk to each other, Jaffe said.

“We have a hard time getting men to talk to other men. How do male colleagues talk to each other if you suspect that he’s a perpetrator? How do you do it in a way that’s helpful?”

Business is opening its eyes to the impact of home situations, and issues such as mental health, on their workers, said Gerry Macartney, chief executive of the London Chamber of Commerce.

“We’re human, and we hire human beings,” he said. “The sooner we address it, the sooner we have an open-door policy to talk about it, the sooner we can have an impact on productivity.”

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From the respondents:

33%: Experienced domestic violence.

35%: Have at least one co-worker who’s experiencing, or has experienced domestic violence.

12%: Have at least one co-worker whom they believe is being abusive, or has been, to a partner.

Of those who’ve experienced domestic violence:

82%: Said it negatively affected their work performance.

38%: Said it affected their ability to get to work.

54%: Said it continued at work.