The Impact of Violent Behaviour for Workplaces

Margaret MacPherson headshot

Margaret MacPherson

Margaret is a Research Associate with CREVAWC at Western University. She has been a champion for the Neighbours, Friends and Families program since 2005.

When we began offering workplace education about domestic violence through the Make It Our Business (MIOB) training program, one of early questions we were asked was, “How is domestic violence a problem for employers?” High profile cases like that of Ray Rice and the NFL, and Jian Ghomeshi and the CBC, should make the reasons crystal clear. They are another illustration of how violence that happens in someone’s personal life can have a huge impact on the workplace. The NFL and CBC came under intense fire for the way that they handled the situations. One of our primary MIOB messages is that as an employer, there are actions you can take to be proactive. We know from the 2014 national survey that one in three Canadians experiences domestic violence. Half experience it while they are at work.

In addition to the considerable reputational damage for the organization, there is also significant impact on safety and productivity. Researchers at the Western University and the University of Toronto will release a new study on September 19, taking an unconventional approach to understanding the significant effects of domestic violence in the workplace. By seeking the views of the perpetrators of violence, the study found that domestic violence perpetration, like victimization, has costs to the workplace in terms of worker safety and productivity and that most employers lack adequate resources to help perpetrators deal with the issue.

Woman working at desk

The findings show:

  • Close to half of respondents (46%) reported that DV issues sometimes, often, or very often negatively affected their job performance.
  • Almost one in 10 (9%) respondents reported that they caused or almost caused a work accident as a result of being distracted or preoccupied by DV issues.
  • One-third of respondents (33.9%) reported being in contact with their (ex)partner during work hours to engage in behaviours that were emotionally abusive or to monitor her actions or whereabouts.
  • Of men who engaged in these behaviours, 1 in 4 used workplace time to drop by her home or workplace.
  • 1 in 5 indicated that their co-workers were aware of these behaviours.
  • Around 40% to 50% of men reported that the climate of their workplaces was closed, unsupportive, and unfair when it came to dealing with DV issues.
  • The majority of respondents indicated that they did not know or were unsure of any resources available to them in the workplace to help them deal with DV.
  • Katreena Scott, Canada Research Chair in Family Violence Prevention and Intervention at the University of Toronto and lead author of the study said, “This study clearly documents the effects of domestic violence on workplaces that fail to address the distress, distraction, anger, and preoccupation workers experience in association with these issues.”

What to do:

  • Identify unacceptable behaviour and include explicit definitions of harassment, violence and domestic violence in your policy
  • Ensure an employee accused of harassment, violence or domestic violence is subject to specified and appropriate investigations, interventions and referrals  
  • Prohibit use of workplace resources such as work time, phones, email, vehicles or other means to threaten, harass, intimidate, embarrass or otherwise harm another person
  • Require disclosure of protection or restraining orders
  • Use progressive disciplinary action  up to and including termination

Workplace training

The best place to start: learn to recognize the warning signs and high risk factors. If you have supervisory responsibilities, make sure your staff are trained and know what to do when they first see signs. We all have a role to play in creating safe and supportive workplaces!

Check out our free online risk assessment course: http://onlinetraining.learningtoendabuse.ca