Our Windsor: Western University studies domestic violence in the workplace

Original Article via Our Windsor | 27 November, 2014

The numbers are sobering. Especially when you consider that behind them is an abused woman, a broken family and traumatized children.

It was early reports from their members which lead the largest union in Canada, Unifor, to partner with the Centre for Research and Education on Violence Against Women and Children (CREVAWC) as well as Western University’s Faculty of Education, which led a six-month nationwide online survey.  The first of its kind in Canada.

More than 8,400 people chose to complete the survey, and from it they learned that nine percent of women lose their jobs as result of domestic violence when it affects their performance at work. More than one-third of female workers report being victims of domestic violence and of them more than 80 percent who choose to open up about their experiences do so to their co-workers

Kim Gibson of Lucan is one of those women.

Her story is one of strength, perseverance and recovery.

“I believed I lived in a normal relationship, I believed we had good times and we had bad times, and honestly didn’t really consider it be really unhealthy,” Gibson said.

That was until one night after telling her boss she had to leave early because she thought she and her husband were going to have a fight at home.

Her husband had other plans. He stabbed her.

That was in 2001 and it would take Gibson three years before she would be ready to return to work, albeit, with a different employer. A decision she made for herself.

“I felt I was a risk to my coworkers and my workplace, and that scared me.” Gibson said.

Even after her rehabilitation when she was interviewing for her current position with Tim Hortons, she told her perspective employers about her past.

They were awed.

“The owners of the franchise I am at, were awed by my bravery to admit that and inspired them to say, ‘You are the exact kind of person we want working here, because you are strong, capable, and you will overcome this, and that is what we want to see you do.’” Gibson said.

It is that strength of character Julie White, a Unifor Canada director, hopes will inspire workers, employers and the federal government to be more proactive in not only acknowledging the problem exists, but to deal with it head on and to everyone’s benefit, including the company.

“We (Unifor) would get involved when our members were losing their jobs, and it was during those interviews women would disclose they were victims of domestic violence, and that is why they were taking time off work because of their situation at home.  Women need to have a direct contact in the workplace to talk about those issues,” White said.

Companies also stand to lose as a result of domestic violence, and while there losses are on a balance sheet, they can be considerable.

“Corporate Canada is also changing, this issue is also an economic issue. When you have absent employee’s, or are not productive at work because they are living in fear, then the impact is multiple millions of dollars lost,” said Peter Jaffe, academic director, CREVAWC.

And while recent events may be lifting a long-laid veil surrounding domestic violence Jaffe knows, like many changes, this will take time.

“It is public awareness. Society changes slowly, whether it is drinking and driving, or addressing the climate, domestic violence and violence against women is no different. Unfortunately, it takes tragedies for people to start thinking about it,” says Jaffe, adding, “Twenty-five years ago when 14 women were killed in Montreal, people said it was an isolated incident. But we can only say that for so long. When you have multiple isolated incidents, then you have a pattern, and people start to talk about it."