Saskatchewan report outlines the help needed by workers experiencing domestic violence

Photo: Steve Rhodes/Flickr

Mandatory workplace education is crucial for supporting workers experiencing domestic violence, a new report from Saskatchewan says.

The Provincial Association of Transition Houses and Services of Saskatchewan (PATHS) released the findings of its research on the workplace impact of domestic violence, what the report calls “intimate partner violence,” last week. The report, Intimate Partner Violence & The Workplace: Results of a Saskatchewan Study, is the result of an online survey, focus groups and interviews conducted between April 2016 and January 2017. In total, 464 people were involved; more than 80 per cent were women.

The report is part of a three-year project, begun in 2015, funded by Status of Women Canada.

Half of respondents described experiencing domestic violence and 83 per cent of those said it had impacted their work. This is significantly higher than national results. In 2013 and 2014, researchers at Western University in London, Ont., and the Canadian Labour Congress conducted a similar survey. One-third of respondents, most of whom were from Ontario and British Columbia, said they had experienced domestic violence, and 38 per cent of those said it impacted their work.

Domestic violence was estimated to cost the Canadian economy $7.4 billion in 2009; the equivalent of $8.4 billon today. Injuries may keep workers home, or their partners may forbid them from leaving. They may be distracted on the job, or their abusers may stalk them at work.

Saskatchewan’s high rate of domestic violence didn’t surprise researchers. It has the highest rate of per capita domestic violence across Canadian provinces. (Rates are higher in the territories.) Statistics Canada data from 2015 puts the rate of domestic violence in Saskatchewan at 666 per 100,000 population — just more than double the national rate.

But researchers found a shocking lack of awareness about domestic violence, said Crystal Giesbrecht, PATHS’ director of research and communication. Several respondents who said they weren’t sure if they experienced domestic violence then described physical or emotional abuse, or harm done to possessions.

This lack of awareness means people may not get the help they might need. That’s why PATHS recommends that employers provide mandatory training about domestic violence to all employees, and that the Saskatchewan government make it law that employers must do what they can to protect employees they think may be at risk of being harmed in the workplace as a result of domestic violence.

Once the government does that, workplace training has to follow, said Giesbrecht, saying it tops her personal “wish list” of government responses.

PATHS would also like the government to consider creating employment leaves for people experiencing domestic violence. In April, the opposition introduced legislation that would require employers to give employees experiencing domestic violence 10 days leave, five of which are to be paid. The days can be taken at once, or separately. Employees would also be entitled to 17 weeks of continuous, unpaid leave. The government is expected to bring forward legislation about domestic violence leave this fall, PATHS’s report says.

Manitoba passed a law giving workers five days paid leave for domestic violence last year. In Alberta, 10 unpaid days became law earlier this year. Ontario is considering creating unpaid domestic violence leave as well.

Work can provide a safe place for people experiencing domestic violence. Doing a good job gives people a sense of “self-efficacy,” said Giesbrecht. One survey respondent said work was, “the only thing that made me self-sufficient.” Another said they “dove into” their work “to get away from everything,” and this improved their job performance.

Another called work, “the one place that you’re supposed to be able to control yourself and your environment” but the “unpredictable factor” of potential abuse kept “interjecting” and interfering with their performance.

In other cases, work can prevent people from getting help. One respondent quoted in the study said they didn’t report acts of physical violence because they couldn’t take time off work to go to the police station during work hours. They felt uncomfortable calling from work to make those reports. Instead, they would call and report damaged property.

Co-workers can help. More than 60 per cent of respondents who said they told a co-worker about their situation said they received emotional support; only 24 per cent received information about counselling or Employee Assistance Plans and 10 per cent received support about safety planning.

But many people don’t know how to respond when someone tells them they’re experiencing domestic violence. One survey respondent said his co-workers didn’t take his accounts of experiencing abuse from his female partner seriously. Almost half of respondents said they’d known or suspected a colleague was being abused. Only 13 per cent reported it.

Policies can make reporting easier, said Giesbrecht. Instead of being scared of meddling, co-workers are simply following a procedure, she said. This “gives workers the confidence that they’re doing the right thing and they’ll be more likely to respond,” she said.

Perpetrators of violence also need access to support, Giesbrecht said. They may also be unproductive at work because they’re spending time stalking or harassing their partner, or former partner. They may be violent in the workplace also, and that shouldn’t be tolerated, said Giesbrecht. But counselling should be available to them so they can change.

PATHS is also doing a pilot project with the Saskatchewan government and General Employees’ Union. It’s training union staff about domestic violence and seeing how more supports and accommodations can be put into their policies and contracts.

Meagan Gillmore is rabble.ca’s labour reporter.

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