Employers Must Protect Survivors Who Work from Home

landmark ruling from an Australian Supreme Court is raising awareness of the responsibility employers have to protect home-based workers from domestic violence. 

The case involves a couple that worked together from their home for a financial planning business. In 2010, Steven Hill bludgeoned his partner, Michel Carroll to death with a hammer. Hill suffered from paranoid delusions and believed that Carroll was conspiring to steal his clients and ruin him. In June 2020, the New South Wales Supreme Court ruled that an employer can be held responsible for family violence when staff work from home. 

In Canada, occupational health and safety legislation applies to employees even when they work from home. Requirements in each Canadian jurisdiction vary but generally, employers are required to take every reasonable precaution to protect their workers from illness and injury.  

In order to ensure the safety of their staff members, employers should update their work-from-home checklists to ensure they have workplace policies and procedures in place that: 

  • Raise awareness of the issue across the organization and encourage employees to disclose concerns  
  • Inform employees about how they can safely and confidentially report domestic violence in their workplace regardless of location 
  • Outline how employers will respond to incidents  
  • Provide resources including information on understanding domestic violence and contact details for immediate assistance and other supports 
  • Establish regular check-ins with vulnerable employees. Team and virtual meetings can be effective and a safe word can be used to cue employers if a situation escalates.
  • Include a workplace safety plan  

Every province in Canada has job-protected leave provisions for domestic or sexual violence. The details, such as duration and eligibility criteria, vary by jurisdiction. Employers may go beyond minimum standards and provide pay for the duration or a portion of the leave if not already required. They may also extend a leave if needed and offer workplace relocation where possible. 

There are other ways that employers can support survivors too: 

  • Remember that survivors are often subject to online monitoring by abusers. If your organization uses a Virtual Private Network (VPN) to allow remote access to files, ensure that all staff have access. Survivors can use a VPN to search more safely for resources and supports. 
  • Make sure your Employee Assistance Plan (EAP) stays accessible and that staff know how to access it even when their work circumstances change or your organization closes to observe a lockdown. Most EAP’s offer resources and supports to survivors of domestic and sexual violence. 
  • Adapt any safety plans already in place. Workplace safety plans are critical. Work with employees and professional supporters to adapt an existing safety plan when work changes or moves to a remote location. Ensure that any new safety plans incorporate remote and on-site working situations. 
  • Share the new myPlan app that creates customized safety plans for survivors and connects them to local resources in Canada 

By keeping communications open and responding on a case-by-case basis with customized safety plans, employers can best insure the safety of vulnerable employees as work moves in response to these challenging times. 

Map of legislation by Canadian jurisdiction: https://canadianlabour.ca/wp-content/uploads/2019/07/Web_Map_EN.pdf