What about workplace responsibility?

Workplaces can help women speak out

Picture of professional man and woman talking at tableRecent high profile cases including Ray Rice and the NFL and Jian Ghomeshi and the CBC have helped us to understand that happens in peoples’ private lives can have an impact in the workplace. The media coverage has highlighted the reputational damage that an offender or an alleged offender can do to his workplace. But, we’ve given less attention to an issue raised by the Toronto Star among others that the women making allegations against Jian Ghomeshi feared a negative impact on their careers.[i]

The emerging stories give us some insights into the challenges women who speak out face. But there is little about the missed opportunities of all workplaces to interrupt patterns of violence. Workplace policies and programs can challenge social norms that tolerate violence, create cultures of open communication where reporting violence is encouraged and provide supports for workers who come forward with reports of violence. These are measures that will bring about real change and in Ontario they are supported by law.

Responsibilities under the OHSA

The Ontario Occupational Health and Safety Act gives employers and supervisors responsibility for preventing and responding to violence, domestic violence and harassment that may cause harm to a worker in the workplace. This pioneering piece of legislation is an example of social change born out of personal tragedy. The law was changed after Lori Dupont, a nurse at Hotel Dieu Grace Hospital in Windsor was killed by her ex-partner, Marc Daniel, a doctor at the same hospital in the Emergency Department. Daniel killed himself after he murdered Ms. Dupont. An inquest into the deaths showed that the hospital missed many opportunities to intervene and to potentially avert the tragedy.

Our Best Starting Advice

Here is our best starting advice. You need a good policy that is a roadmap for everyone in the organization to follow. Teach everyone in your organization to recognize warning signs and risk factors. Teach everyone how to start the conversation when the signs show up. Build relationships with the experts in your community so that you know who to contact quickly.

Taking Appropriate Action

We know that the NFL at first minimized the seriousness of Ray Rice’s assault. It’s been reported that in at least one instance, the CBC minimized and failed to address an alleged incident of workplace sexual harassment carried out by Jian Ghomeshi.

The workplaces that have been so closely touched by these incidents are no longer minimizing them. Ray Rice has been fired. Jian Ghomeshi has been fired. The NFL has hired a team of experts to create a workplace training program on domestic violence. And Cindy Witten, the senior director of talk radio for CBC’s Radio One service stated in the Globe and Mail on Saturday that, “I made a commitment to my team, to my staff that things have to change, that I personally have zero tolerance – none- for inappropriate behaviour, sexual harassment of any kind, and I asked them to believe that, and to embrace that, and that if there’s any kind of impropriety, I asked them to please talk to me or some they’re comfortable with.”[ii]

Next Steps

Over the past four decades we have seen many societal changes to the way we understand and respond to violence against women. Many of the changes have been positive, but as the unfolding story of the allegations against Mr. Ghomeshi demonstrates, there is still much to do.

As we ponder where to go from here, consider this question: will we wait for the personal tragedy to strike close to home and be forced into taking action, or will we be proactive and learn to prevent and respond early to violence against women?

Don’t wait for a personal tragedy to make change. Don’t risk your organization’s reputation.

As a weary Michael Enright, describing how the Ghomeshi revelations are playing out in his workplace, said on the Sunday Edition, “It is a time to reflect and an opportunity to act.”

Everyone has a role to play. If you want to learn about how to create a policy and program to prevent and respond to domestic violence in your workplace, visit www.Makeitourbusiness.com.

[i] Donovan, K., Brown, J. (2014, October 31). Jian Ghomeshi: 8 women accuse former CBC host of violence, sexual abuse or harassment. Retrieved from thestar.com GTA.

[ii] Houpt, S. (2014, November 1). CBC struggling to move forward after Ghomeshi firing. Retrieved from The Globe and Mail: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/national/cbc-struggling-to-move-forward-after-ghomeshi-firing/article21418358/