As the pandemic continues, many people are still working from home. Under the Canada Labour Code, Part II, employers must take every reasonable precaution to protect their employees - including teleworkers - from hazards. Those employers who have employees working in remote locations need to think about keeping them safe as well.
Service organizations have been reporting a surge in demand from victims of domestic abuse since the start of the pandemic, and your teleworking employees could be at risk.* "With more people working from home, or ordered to isolate at home, vulnerable employees may be stuck with their abusers 24/7," explains Krista Schmid, WSPS Mental Health Consultant. "It's a sensitive issue, and some employers may not be aware of their legal obligations, or how to protect employees in home offices."
Under the new Work Place Harassment and Violence Prevention Regulations, employers are responsible for mitigating the risks of workplace violence and harassment with a policy and preventive measures. This includes consideration of factors external to the work place, such as family violence, that could give rise to harassment and violence in the work place.** Sourced from "Work Place Harassment and Violence Prevention Regulations: SOR/202-130.:
Update your violence policy now
Since the onset of the pandemic, employees working in various settings may be at greater risk of violence, including physical and verbal attacks by co-workers or customers.
The reason: feelings of anxiety, frustration, irritability and anger due to COVID-19 stressors. "Sometimes those feelings can overwhelm people and erupt in violence, harassment or bullying," says Krista.
Krista reminds employers they are legally required to conduct a work place assessment at least once every three years, and as often as necessary to keep the policy and preventive measures current or when circumstances change - such as arranging for employees to work remotely. "COVID has altered the work place in innumerable ways," says Krista, "so consider incorporating the impact of telework into your work place assessment now in conjunction with your policy and work place health and safety committees." Then, update your harassment and violence prevention policy and preventive measures accordingly.
Teleworkers and domestic violence
Domestic violence can impact employee health and safety, productivity and morale. The employer's role is to build awareness and provide support and assistance to affected employees - not to provide personal advice or counselling.
Start by destigmatizing the issue among your workforce. Develop and communicate a policy that incorporates understanding and empathy. Employees experiencing domestic violence need to know you will provide safe, confidential assistance, and they won't be judged.
Krista offers four suggestions on how to help protect teleworkers from domestic violence.
- Provide online training on domestic violence in the workplace to employers, managers, and employees so everyone knows their responsibilities, how to respond sensitively and confidentially, and what resources are available to employees in abusive situations.
- Watch for signs during phone calls and virtual meetings that an employee may be experiencing domestic violence. Is an employee less productive or unable to concentrate? Do they seem particularly stressed, anxious or shaky? Do they show bruising, or other forms of physical injury?
- If an employee confides they are in an abusive relationship, listen, empathize and encourage them to seek professional help from your company's employee assistance program (EAP) or outside sources, such as
- Talk to the employee about possible work accommodations that could help. If the employee is the victim of family violence or the parent of the victim of family violence they are entitled up to 10 days leave (first five days paid). For further information, please visit Canada.ca.
How WSPS can help
- Download Developing Workplace Violence and Harassment Policies and Programs: A Toolbox. Use the toolbox to identify hazards and risks and develop a workplace violence and harassment policy and program, and a domestic violence program.
- If you have employees who may be at risk of customer-related violence, check out the resources in this article: Are your employees prepared to handle COVID-linked violence?
* More than half (54%) of respondents to a Statistics Canada survey of victim service organizations reported an increase in the number of domestic abuse victims served between mid-March and early July. Even more troubling, 17% reported a decrease, which some attributed to less opportunity to report abuse. The survey was conducted between June 29 and July 13, 2021.
** ESDC's "Work Place Harassment and Violence Prevention - Interpretations, Policies and Guidelines" document states that an "occurrence" can include an incident of domestic or family violence that takes place in either the physical employer-provided workplace or in the employee's home if the employee has a "work-from-home" agreement with their employer. However, if an employer is made aware of an incident of domestic or family violence that took place in the employee's home that is not subject to a "work-from-hom" agreement, or in any other location that is not a work place, the employer is encouraged to address the incident in order to prevent it from becoming an occurrence in the future.