When you’re a woman living in an abusive relationship, having a job gives you an escape from the chaos that rules your life. Working also provides financial security, an oasis from the ongoing isolation, and the opportunity to find out about services and source much needed help. Unfortunately, the self-sufficiency and independence fostered by working outside the home threaten the abuser’s ability to retain power and control within the relationship.

That’s why women living with abusive partners frequently change jobs. Abusers may continuously phone, text, or email their partners throughout the day. Perpetrators may stalk partners and even show up at their work. These actions often cause women to lose their jobs, which is often the goal of abusers who want to keep their partners completely dependent.

The Centre for Research and Education on Violence Against Women and Children and the Canadian Labour Congress conducted a Pan-Canadian Survey on domestic violence and the workplace called, Can Work Be Safe, When Home Isn’t? The online survey launched in December 2013 ran until June 2014. A total of 8,429 people 15 years of age and over participated. Individuals between 25 and 64 accounted for 94 per cent of respondents. Over 78 per cent were female. 81 per cent were permanently employed and over 81 per cent were, or had been, in unionized positions mainly in education, health care and social assistance sectors.

Almost 54 per cent of domestic violence victims reported that at least one type of abuse happened at, or near, their work. The most common forms of abusive included phone calls, text messaging, stalking and harassment. Close to 82 per cent of victims said domestic violence negatively affected their performance because they were distracted, or felt tired, or unwell. 38 per cent reported the violence made them late or miss work. While 8.5 per cent actually lost their job.

As many as 37 per cent of respondents admitted experiencing stress or concern because they had a co-worker they believed was experiencing domestic violence or a co-worker they believed was, or had been, abusive to his or her partner.

Three-quarters of all respondents thought paid leave and safety policies could reduce the impact of domestic violence on the work lives of all employees.

Employers are also financially impacted by domestic violence. In 2013, the Department of Justice released An Estimation of the Economic Impact of Spousal Violence in Canada, 2009. The study found domestic violence, perpetrated against women and men, costs Canadian employers an estimated $78 million annually. But this number failed to include societal costs in the forms of policing, the judicial system, correctional services, health care, lost wages, damage to property, moving costs, legal costs, pain and suffering, funeral costs, social services and the impact on children. The more inclusive total for intimate partner violence is actually $7.4 billion or $220 per Canadian annually.

On March 8, 2016, Ontario MPP Peggy Sattler introduced a Private Member’s Bill called the Domestic and Sexual Violence Workplace Leave, Accommodation and Training Act which provided up to 10 days of paid leave. The bill also allowed for additional “reasonable” unpaid leave, as well as mandatory workplace training for domestic violence and sexual violence.  While the bill received all-party support, the prorogation of the legislature earlier this fall meant the bill died on the order paper.

On September 27, 2016, the bill was re-introduced into the new session of the legislature as Bill 26 and is currently scheduled to be debated for its second reading on Thursday, October 20, 2016, at approximately 2:40 p.m.

Victims of domestic violence and sexual assault need to be accommodated with paid time off to see a doctor, attend a crisis centre, find a place to live, find child care, get counselling for themselves and their children, or go to court.

Legislation that includes mandatory training is needed to help employers, and their employees, recognize the warning signs, impacts and risks in order to develop informed, effective and appropriate workplace policies and plans.

Every member of the provincial legislature should vote in favour of Bill 26 because it moves women in Ontario closer to the goal of being able to live without the fear of violence.

Time is of the essence, so take a minute to send your MPP an email or text asking them to vote for Bill 26. Be sure to copy both Kevin Flynn, Minister of Labour and Tracy MacCharles, Minister Responsible for Women’s Issues.

Doreen Nicoll

Doreen Nicoll is weary of the perpetual misinformation and skewed facts that continue to concentrate wealth, power and decision making in the hands of a few to the detriment of the many. As a freelance...