Breaking the Silence: Domestic Violence in the Workplace
Lilka Young is the Human Resources Coordinator, Health and Safety at the Middlesex-London Health Unit. She facilitates the Make It Our Business one-hour basic training to staff and is the Co-chair of the Joint Occupational Health and Safety Committee. Lilka lives, works, plays and volunteers in London Ontario.
“She is always on the phone at work, how does she get anything done?”
“Her husband is such a control freak.”
“That is personal, it’s none of your business.”
“What if I’m wrong?”
These are familiar statements we hear in the workplace, especially when staff do not have the knowledge and tools to recognize and respond to domestic violence in the workplace.
It is often difficult to overcome the hesitation to act and the misconception that domestic violence is a private issue; however, it is imperative that when warning signs or risk factors are identified, we act. Domestic violence impacts the workplace in a number of ways. It can take the form of performance issues, special accommodations, or even exposure to violence in the workplace. This is why domestic violence isn’t a private issue. It can impact employees in a number of ways, including both the person experiencing domestics violence, as well as the safety of everyone else in the workplace. Recognizing that domestic violence is a workplace issue is the first step for workplaces to take in order to support those who are impacted by violence and keep all staff safe.
Overcoming the hesitation to act and paying attention to the warning signs could very well save someone’s life. That is why the Make It Our Business Training is so important to introduce in all workplaces. Employees, no matter their role or position in an organization, should be given the tools to respond to, and recognize the warning signs and risk factors associated with, domestic violence. Providing these tools helps to break down the stigma associated with domestic violence while also empowering staff to respond and act on what they can see. Having the awareness to recognize possible warning signs and risk factors empowers staff to speak up and talk about domestic violence.
Training doesn’t stop at basic awareness. Staff, neighbours, friends and families need to be comfortable acting on the warning signs they recognize. Employers should be able to support those affected by violence by having the skills and resources to facilitate safety, both at home and in the workplace. Bystanders (staff, neighbours, friends and families) are not there to fix the problem but can provide support, every step of the way. The goal is safety and in order to establish safety, there needs to be a plan. Through working with colleagues who have experienced domestic violence in the workplace, I have learned that safety planning and the development of safety procedures must include input from the person who is experiencing the abuse. Far too often we plan, discuss and make decisions that do not include the people those decisions impact. We know that those with lived experience have the knowledge and understanding we need to improve process.
When we provide training, tools and resources to our staff, we hope to empower those affected by domestic violence to share their experience so that we can further support them with a safety plan for when they are at work, and also provide resources and safety supports for when they are at home. Those same tools and resources can also empower those who are seeing the warning signs of abuse to act, and to have a conversation about what they are seeing.
We need to break down the stigma and the silence that surrounds domestic violence in order to overcome it. It is opening the door for communication combined with awareness and training that can support survivors and prevent tragedies.
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