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Domestic violence and the work-home divide

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Posted 17 February 2015 - 03:21 PM

With thanks to JEFFREY R. SMITH


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Feb 9, 2015
Domestic violence and the work-home divide
Determining course of action for employers not easy when it comes to employees and domestic violence

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By Jeffrey R. Smith

Employers have a legal obligation to do everything reasonably possible to protect their employees from harm in the workplace. But do they have an obligation to do something to protect employees from harm outside of the workplace, if they’re able? What if the line between work and home life blurs?


Domestic violence is generally considered to be something that happens at home behind closed doors. But there’s no question it can affect someone wherever they are, no matter the attempts to keep work and home separate. Victims of domestic violence are often changed by it, and this can carry over into their work — whether their performance or attitude — which can affect the employer’s productivity or work environment. But even outside of those considerations, does the employer have an obligation to take action if it becomes aware of an employee being subject to domestic violence?

A Jan. 26, 2015, Canadian HR Reporter article titled “Domestic violence spills into workplace” revealed that a recent survey of 8,429 people — most of them unionized workers — by Western University in London, Ont., and the Canadian Labour Congress found 33.6 per cent reported experiencing domestic violence at some point in their lives. And of those people, more than half (53.5 per cent) said at least one instance of abuse happened at or near their workplace. Whether an employer wants to get involved in a domestic situation or not, when things are happening at or near work, it can become a workplace safety issue.

Ontario is one jurisdiction that has specified circumstances when an employer must get involved in domestic violence issues. The province’s Occupational Health and Safety Amendment Act (Violence and Harassment in the Workplace), commonly referred to as Bill 168, has been in effect since June 2010. Designed to provide greater protection for workers against workplace violence and harassment, the bill contains requirements for employers to take every reasonable precaution to protect workers from the effects of domestic violence if they “ought reasonably to be aware” that domestic violence could expose a worker to injury in the workplace.

What circumstances could lead to domestic violence exposing an injury in the workplace? It could refer to if an abuser comes to the victim’s place of work. In such circumstances, the employer would need to beef up security. It’s also possible both parties in the relationship could work for the same employer, which would increase the risk of something happening at work and the employer’s duty to get involved. But at least there would be no confusion over whether the employer would be obligated to take steps to protect the victim, at least while at work.

If an employee is subject to domestic violence near work or on the way to work, this can be more complicated. Or even if an employee is injured at home because of domestic violence, what should the employer do? Employers can take moral stances and try to help or refer victimized employees to assistance programs, but should they have a legal obligation to act if it happens outside the workplace?
© Copyright Canadian HR Reporter, Thomson Reuters Canada Limited. All rights reserved
- See more at: http://www.hrreporte...h.yq00XrXP.dpuf
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