Domestic violence is not a new issue. 

A study by the Canadian Labour Congress (CLC) previously reported on in the Canary found that domestic violence is prevalent across all socio-economic classes, cultures and faith groups.

One thing is common however: women are by far at greatest risk, in both prevalence and potential severity of the abuse.

What is new is a growing recognition amongst unions that we have a role to play in raising awareness, offering support and guiding victims – and possibly helping abusers get proper support.

On the surface, domestic violence may not seem like a workplace problem, or one that unions might be concerned with. However, the CLC survey showed that almost 82 per cent of victims of domestic violence reported that the abuse also negatively affected their work, with many reporting they were distracted, tired, unwell or injured. Most said they did not consider speaking with their union for help.

The job performance of workers who experience domestic violence can suffer as well. Affected job performance can lead to potential discipline or even termination, especially in workplaces that lack appropriate domestic violence support programs.

Having a job can help a victim leave an abusive relationship. By offering assistance at work, unions and employers can provide more safety and security for an employee in all aspects of their lives, including addressing any work performance problems in a positive way.

Our society’s understanding of violence is evolving. For example, it is no longer acceptable that employers blame, fire or punish victims of domestic violence. In fact, employers have an obligation to protect their employees from all forms of violence at work, and can be judged liable under health and safety legislation if they do not.

Workplace responses to domestic violence will be different from other kinds of violence. Employers should work with health and safety committees to develop policies and safety procedures for the worksite, and they must also work with the victim to develop safety plans that do not put the victim at further risk.

As unionists, we can help our members overcome domestic violence. Here are some key concepts to bargain into our collective agreements:

  • Dedicated paid leave that can be taken in small chunks without long wait-times for approval
  • Flexible work arrangements, including worksite relocation
  • Confidential processes that ensure information is shared only on a “need to know” basis
  • A process to develop workplace safety plans that ensure the victim’s safety and well-being, as well as that of co-workers
  • Referral processes for employees to appropriate domestic violence support services
  • Appropriate training and paid time off work for designated worker support roles (such as social stewards or women’s advocates)
  • Protection against adverse action or discrimination

CUPE recognizes we can all help keep members safer by recogning and responding to domestic violence in our workplaces. This is why we are currently working on developing resources for members for release in 2017.

Perhaps the most important thing that we can do for our members is to build awareness and create better training – for all workers, employers, leaders and representatives. When we recognize and respond to domestic violence in our workplaces, we can help keep members safe. 

If you require additional resources or support please contact your CUPE National Servicing Representative or Health and Safety Specialist.