As the pandemic continues, many people are still working from home. Under the Occupational Health and Safety Act, employers must take every reasonable precaution to protect workers - including teleworkers - from hazards.
Those employers who have workers in remote locations need to think about keeping them safe as well. In the second part of our series on telework and health and safety, here is some insight on protecting workers from domestic violence in a working from home world.
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 Occupational Health and Safety Act, employers are responsible for mitigating the risks of workplace violence and harassment with a policy and supporting program. This includes domestic violence.**
Update your violence program 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 violence and risk assessment as often as necessary to keep the policy and program current or when circumstances change - such as arranging for employees to work remotely. "COVID has altered the workplace in innumerable ways," says Krista, "so consider reviewing your violence risk assessment now in conjunction with your joint health and safety committee." Then, update your violence and prevention policy and program 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, supervisors, 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, and about their right to a domestic leave of absence of up to 10 days (the first five days paid) and 15 weeks in a calendar year.
How we 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.
Raise awareness by offering these eCourses to all employees:
- Domestic Violence in the Workplace (1 hour)
- Violence in the Workplace: Establish a Prevention Program (English) (1.5 hours)
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.
** Section 32.0.4 of the Occupational Health and Safety Act states that "if an employer becomes aware, or ought reasonably to be aware, that domestic violence that would likely expose a worker to physical injury may occur in the workplace, the employer shall take every precaution reasonable in the circumstances for the protection of the worker."