New Warning Signs for Spotting Abuse & Canadian Labour Laws Supporting Victims

Six months into quarantine, many of us fortunate enough to work from home have realized that we took perfunctory office routines for granted.  Strolling over to coworkers’ desks to chat about their day or taking much-needed lunch breaks in the cafeteria now feel like bygone cherished traditions.  Going to work not only adds structure to our day but also offers valuable social interaction.  We are invested in our colleagues’ well-being and they in ours; to varying degrees, they are sources of emotional and psychological support.  Seeing our co-workers on a regular basis also helps us flag anything amiss.  It’s much easier to notice if someone seems upset, tired, or distracted when you are frequently around them. 

For victims of domestic violence, the workplace is even more meaningful, serving as a temporary escape and reprieve from abuse.  We at Make It Our Business have always worked hard to help workplaces support victims of domestic violence, creating guides on warning signs and communicating with employees at risk. In the midst of a pandemic as many people work from home, however, our tips don’t necessarily translate to a virtual workspace.  After all, how can you notice warning signs when your coworkers aren’t frequently participating in video calls?  And if they are showing their faces, what doesn’t their laptop camera show you?


As our workplace environments go digital, so too have the ways we can notice if our coworkers are in danger.  Below are new warning signs that are specific to workplaces that have gone remote: 

 Encourage video meetings if possible 

  • Note if certain employees are reluctant to turn on or keep their camera on.   Similarly, note if they seem self-conscious that someone off-screen is carefully listening to their words 
  • Note what the employee is wearing, such as long sleeves on a hot day or more makeup than usual 
  • Note the employee’s body language; do they seem relaxed in their own home? 
  • Is there anything in the video background that might seem alarming or concerning? 

 Track changes in work performance and behaviour 

  • Has their productivity or concentration dipped in response to distractions at home?
  • Have they started cutting off social contact with coworkers with whom they were once friends?  
  • Do they seem less relaxed on the phone or in video meetings than they used to be in-person? 

 Unexplained sickness or absences 

  • Did an employee take time off from work only to return even more stressed or anxious than before?
  • Are they constantly late for work or meetings for personal reasons?  

 If these warning signs resonate with a coworker’s behaviour and you are concerned for their safety, reach out.  Tell them that you want to disclose something confidential, but ask what would be their preferred, most secure method of communication.  Afterwards, use our guide on communicating with an employee at risk to help frame the conversation.

Beyond the one-on-one support that we can provide our colleagues, Canadian provincial labour laws give victims of domestic violence an extra boost.  This Labour Day, we wanted to highlight the strides in Canada’s and its provinces’ labour regulations to support victims of intimate partner violence.  While the Canadian government offers five days of paid domestic violence leave in federally-regulated workplaces and all provinces offer some form of domestic violence leave, we hope paid rather than unpaid leave becomes the standard expectation in workplaces across the country in the future. 

Below are provinces’ latest labour regulations for job-protected domestic violence leave: 

PROVINCE 

Maximum Days Per Calendar Year 

British Columbia 

5 days of paid leave and 5 days of unpaid leave 

Alberta 

10 days of unpaid leave 

Saskatchewan 

5 days of paid leave and 5 days of unpaid leave  

Manitoba 

5 days of paid leave, up to 17 unpaid continuous weeks 

Ontario 

5 days of paid leave, up to 15 unpaid continuous 

Quebec 

3 paid days of leave under the Personal Emergency Leave provision and 26 unpaid weeks in a 12-month period 

New Brunswick 

5 days of paid leave and up to 16 unpaid continuous weeks 

Nova Scotia 

3 days of paid leave and 7 days of unpaid leave 

Prince Edward Island 

3 days of paid leave and an additional 7 days of unpaid leave 

Newfoundland & Labrador 

3 days of paid leave and an additional 7 days of unpaid leave 

For an exhaustive list of privacy, human rights, occupational health and safety, and employment standards by Canadian province, check out Norton Rose Fulbright’s thought leadership on domestic violence support.  This guide also features a summary of telework-related laws supporting victims of domestic violence who work remotely.