Creating Safer Workplaces

Domestic violence does not stay at home when employees go to work. Workplaces can prevent violence and develop safe productive worksites.

Related gender-based violence and the workplace information and resources:

Training for Employers –

Anti-Violence Workplace Training Resources –

WorkSafeBC Domestic Violence in the Workplace –

How Violence in Relationships Impacts the Workplace

Tony McNaughton was a manager of a Starbuck’s on Robson Street in Vancouver. He was stabbed to death on January 20, 2000, protecting a staff member from her estranged husband. He told the woman to run and faced her attacker alone.

Violence in relationships is a reality that impacts workplaces in a variety of ways. Companies typically face numerous human resource concerns with limited time and money. Often a decision to focus on a specific problem is not made until the problem becomes significant and costly; violence in relationships is both.


A 2001 USA study asked people charged with violence in relationships about the impact their behavior had on their work:

  • 48% had difficulty concentrating at work
  • 19% reported a workplace accident or near miss from inattentiveness
  • Over 75% used workplace resources at least once to express remorse or anger, check up on, pressure, or threaten the victim

A 2005 USA national telephone survey of full-time employed adults found that

  • 21% of full-time employed adults were victims of violence in relationships
  • 64% of them indicated their work performance was significantly impacted
  • 69% of them indicated that their employers provided programs, support and/or help.

Information Sources:

Survey of 100 Senior Executives from Fortune 1000 Companies, 2002
Everybody’s Business. CAEPV Special Edition Newsletter 2006
Employers Against Domestic Violence, 2002
Ending Relationships Abuse Society of BC

Supporting Employees Experiencing Violence in Relationships

“Everything you do to support victims of family violence makes a difference. No matter how small your contribution, even putting out pamphlets about abuse in a safe space (the employee’s washroom for example), will pay off, not only for the victimized employee, but possibly for other workers and your entire business. Ultimately, the results of our actions are cumulative, and we all benefit from promoting healthier and safer homes, workplaces, and communities.”

Family Violence: It’s Your Business. New Brunswick Family Violence and the Workplace Committee

Signs a co-worker or employee may be experiencing violence in relationships

  • repeated, sudden or unexplained absence from work
  • use of an excessive amount of sick leave
  • frequently arriving late for work or leaving early
  • often preoccupied with personal phone calls
  • may appear frightened or anxious following a call from a partner
  • asks co-workers to screen phone calls
  • exhibits stress related behaviours such as fatigue,
  • inability to concentrate, forgetfulness, crying, over-reaction
  • avoids socialising outside of the workplace (‘I have to get home on time’)
  • avoids making friends with co-workers
  • exhibits increased anxiety towards the end of the work day
  • dresses in a manner that conceals injuries, e.g.. long sleeves, high collars, dark glasses
  • obvious injuries, but minimizing them
  • confused thinking or inability to make decisions

Talk to them about what you see and let them know that you are concerned.

In a non-emergency situation, one of the primary reasons a survivor tells their story is to investigate their options and be encouraged by a non-judgmental, helpful person.  If someone in your workplace begins telling you about their experiences, you can:

  • Listen to and acknowledge their experiences.
  • Affirm the injustice of the violence.
  • Respect their autonomy.
  • Help them plan for future safety.
  • Promote their access to community and workplace services.
  • Respect and safeguard their confidentiality.

It’s important to:

  • Provide a sensitive, non-judgmental response. Show you understand about violence in relationships – explain they are not alone, nor to blame, that they do not deserve to be treated this way and that there is help available.
  • Be aware that there may be additional issues facing an employee because of their ethnic background, age, sexual orientation or ability.
  • Respect the choices and decisions an employee/co-worker makes about the relationship, even if you disagree with it.
  • Keep the information confidential, telling only those who need to know (e.g. security staff), with the employee/co-worker’s permission.
  • Know about work and community support options available and discuss these with the worker.

Some additional strategies for employers:

  • Work with employees to adjust their schedule or workload as necessary and offer the option of having compassionate leave and/or time off to resolve practicalities, for example attending legal meetings, making financial arrangements or arranging alternative schooling.
  • Ensure communication is maintained with the employee during any absence, while remembering to maintain confidentiality of their whereabouts.
  • Help develop workplace safety plans with the employee. Let women know about how to contact local violence in relationships services. Practical safety measures need to be mutually agreed – those experiencing violence in relationships are best able to assess the danger to themselves and their children.
  • Review security of personnel information held such as temporary or new addresses, bank or healthcare details.
  • Offer temporary or permanent changes to the employee’s workplace and work schedule such relocation to a secure area.
  • With consent, provide a copy of any existing protection orders and/or a photograph of the abuser to the supervisor and other relevant personnel.

Information Sources:

A Framework for Understanding the Nature and Dynamics of Domestic Violence
Domestic Violence and The Workplace. Women’s Aid Federation of England
Is Someone You Know Being Abused? Province of BC Domestic Violence and the Workplace Training Manual, Government of Australia

Supporting Employees Who Use Violence in Relationships

Signs a co-worker or employee may be using violence in relationships:

  • repeated, sudden or unexplained absences from work
  • lies to make themselves look good or exaggerates good qualities
  • acts like they are superior and of more value than others in their home
  • exhibits stress related behaviours such as fatigue, inability to concentrate, forgetfulness
  • avoids socialising outside of the workplace
  • avoids making friends with co-workers
  • confused thinking or inability to make decisions

You may also notice the following abusive behaviours:

  • behaves in jealous or suspicious ways
  • continually telephones or visit the workplace of their partner
  • harasses the victim or other staff at work
  • stalks their partner at work or home
  • ridicules their partner to others, even in a ‘joking’ mannerTalk to them about what you see and let them know that you are concerned

Talk to them about what you see and let them know that you are concerned

  • If there is immediate danger call the police or worksite security
  • Show concern – for example: “Something seems to be going on with you. Can I help?”
  • Approach the person privately when they are calm at a time and place where you can talk and will not be interrupted.
  • Be direct about what you have seen but avoid making judgments about them as a person
  • Avoid validating excuses and justifications
  • Point out that you are talking to them because you are concerned about them and their partner (and kids if any).
  • Inform them that their behaviour needs to stop and that abuse makes problems worse.
  • If relevant note how their drinking makes things worse.
  • Offer information for appropriate services; don’t force them to seek help; don’t argue about their abuse; keep communication open and look for opportunities to help.

Information Sources:
Family Violence: It’s Your Business. New Brunswick Family Violence and the Workplace Committee
Is Someone You Know Abusing His Partner? Province of BC
Domestic Violence and The Workplace. Women’s Aid Federation of England
Ending Relationship Abuse Society of BC

How Co-Workers and Employers are Impacted

  • Violence in relationships affects not only the people in the relationship, but also those close to them, frequently touching on fears and misconceptions. This can include co-workers and employers. Some impacts include:
    • Feelings of distress and discomfort
    • Safety concerns about their own well-being
    • Concerns about having to “cover” co-worker’s or employee’s work
  • Co-workers and employers may avoid dealing with signs of violence in relationships due to fears about not knowing what to say, fears about making things worse, or the belief that it is a private matter.
  • Co-workers and employers may experience reactions such as anger, helplessness, shock, disbelief, guilt and fear. They may feel angry with themselves or with the person victimized or with the person using violence.
  • People often distance themselves from their own feelings of anger, shock or powerlessness by judging or blaming the person who is experiencing violence. This tendency to blame is reinforced by the widely held misconception that somehow people ask for or deserve to be assaulted.

Co-workers and employers may devote work time in an effort to protect a worker who is experiencing violence in their relationship. They may devote work time in an effort to intervene with a worker who is using violence in their relationship.

Take care of yourself! Helping someone who is using or experiencing violence in their relationship is very difficult. You need to look after your own well being too. Talk with other trusted people about your feelings without giving away your co-worker/employee’s name or betraying them.

Information Sources:
Family Violence: It’s Your Business. New Brunswick Family Violence and the Workplace Committee Sexual Assault: Information for Partners and Friends, Victoria Women’s Sexual Assault Centre Is Someone You Know Being Abusive? Province of BC How To Help A Friend. Battered Women’s Support Services Ending Relationship Abuse Society of BC

Sample Workplace Policy on Violence in Relationships

Whereas violence in relationships affects the lives and impacts on the safety of hundreds of British Columbia employees each day,

Whereas, violence in relationships enters the workplace impacting on the safety of victims, perpetrators and co-workers, and results in lost productivity, increased health care costs, increased absenteeism and increased employee turnover,

It is the policy of __________________________that each of our employees has the right to work in an environment free of violence. Moreover, every employee has the right to seek assistance [through the Employee Assistance Program] with issues in relation to violence, even when it is happening outside of the workplace. Violence, as defined in this policy, means a pattern of coercive tactics in which one person seeks to hurt or intimidate another through the use of physical force, verbal harassment or manipulation in order to establish and maintain power and control over the victim.

Therefore, we will use a variety of methods, including:

I. Employee Awareness

  • We will disseminate a statement that states our opposition to all acts of violence, including violence in relationships, to all our employees/supervisors/managers.
  • We will post copies of the violence in relationships policy, information posters and other media prominently in areas accessible to employees, customers and suppliers.
  • We will provide information to all employees about services available, [through our EAP] to help employees deal with any issues related to workplace or violence in relationships.

II. Workplace Safety

  • We will seek to eliminate the potential for violence in and around the workplace by reviewing our workplace environment and minimizing, where possible, physical attributes which may expose our employees to violent acts.
  • We will provide reasonable means to consult with and assist victimized employees in developing and implementing individualized workplace safety plans [consistent with existing collective bargaining agreements].
  • We will enforce all known court orders, particularly orders telling the abuser to stay away from the work site.
  • We will have an emergency security plan with procedures for contacting the police when employees observe anyone engaging in threatening behaviour.
  • We will explore options for voluntary relocation of the victimized employee, escort for entry and exit of the building, and dealing with harassing telephone, email and faxes.

III. Supportive and Non-Discriminatory Policies

  • We will take reasonable measures to develop policies, practices and measures that deal with employee absenteeism, productivity, safety, and requirements for support and counselling related to violence in relationships.
  • We will ensure that our policies and practices do not discriminate against employees experiencing violence in relationships and we will be responsive to their needs as victims.
  • We will not base staffing decisions on any assumption about or knowledge of an employee’s exposure to violence in relationships.

IV. Training

  • We will make training on violence in relationships and its impact on the workplace available on a regular basis for all managers, supervisors, human resources staff, and security staff.
  • We will train staff on signs of violence in relationships, impacts on workplace, making appropriate referrals, confidentiality, individualized responses and safety plans.

V. Responsibility for Policy

  • We will ensure that all managers and supervisors follow the policy and disseminate copies to all employees upon implementation and all new employees.
  • Employees with questions or complaints about violence in relationships related workplace behaviours that fall under this policy, may discuss them with _____________. Concerns will be addressed.

We believe that helping to prevent violence in the workplace and in the family is our company’s business and will help foster a safer society.

Adapted From:
Family Violence: It’s Your Business (A Workplace Toolkit).
New Brunswick Family Violence and the Workplace Committee,
Public Legal Education and Information Service of New Brunswick.