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It’s time for companies to help employees experiencing domestic violence

Women make up more than half the workforce in Canada. It’s time for employers to provide supports for workers who are enduring domestic abuse situations. (Shutterstock)

It’s time for companies to help employees experiencing domestic violence

Intimate partner violence causes an array of harm to women, children and society at large. Canadian employers lose $77.9 million annually due to the direct and indirect impact of violence at the hands of an intimate partner.

A 2015 Canadian study by Western University’s Centre for Research and Education on Violence Against Women and Children, and the Canadian Labour Congress, surveyed 8,429 people across Canada asking about their experiences of domestic violence.

Fully one third of respondents reported having personally experienced domestic violence by an intimate partner. These findings were consistent with other Canadian national surveys, including the 2014 Learning to End Abuse report.

That report found that among those who have endured domestic violence, 81.9 per cent said it negatively affected their work performance, causing them to feel tired and distracted, with 38 per cent reporting that the violence had an impact on their ability to get to work. Almost nine per cent said they’d lost a job due to domestic violence.

I am currently enrolled in a Doctor of Business Administration post-graduate program. My area of research is related to support in the workplace for those who experience domestic abuse.

As part of my research, I’m looking for members of the public to complete a survey. The purpose of the survey is to gain an understanding of current workplace supports available for female workers who experience intimate partner violence or abuse.

Lend your voice to help people who are experiencing domestic violence by taking a few minutes to complete my survey. The deadline for responses is Nov. 23.

Work disruption tactics

Some partners — most of them male, according to the studies — use a variety of work disruption tactics to jeopardize women’s job stability. Tactics include hiding car keys, not showing up to look after children at agreed-upon times and physically restraining women when they try to leave for work.

Women with children are particularly vulnerable because of the costs associated with leaving an abusive relationship with children in tow.

Sheryl Sandberg, the chief operating officer at Facebook, reported in her 1991 thesis for Harvard that having just one child increased the probability of abuse by approximately 50 per cent for women. She also found through her research that the presence of children actually increases the likelihood of abuse continuing, because women are less likely or able to leave their abusers.

Abuse can take a variety of forms — physical (deliberate acts intended to cause pain or injury), economic (withholding financial support), emotional (threats meant to frighten or intimidate) and sexual. Many women experience several of these forms of abuse from their partners, and often the only place they can go to feel relatively safe is to work.

There has been increasing public awareness about domestic violence in Canada. In 2015, the Jian Ghomeshi trial received national coverage, bringing the issue of sexual consent to the forefront of public debate.

“When the story broke, Canadians began to have a real conversation about the very valid reasons victims often don’t come forward to friends, family or the police,” Angelina Chapin, a columnist for the Huffington Post and the Ottawa Citizen, wrote in 2016.

“On social media and IRL, people dispelled the myths that real victims report assault immediately and have marks to prove their abuse.”

In towns and cities across Canada, citizens began to stand up for victims. In September 2015, 50 local residents held a vigil in Renfrew, Ont., to remember three women who died as a result of domestic violence. It was particularly heartening to see a lot of men out to support this important cause.

Maria Fitzpatrick, a member of the Alberta legislative assembly, has been vocal about being a victim of domestic abuse at the hands of her former husband. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/David Rossiter)

In November 2015, Maria Fitzpatrick, a member of Alberta’s legislative assembly, shared her personal story of domestic violence in a passionate speech to help buoy support for a provincial private member’s bill to improve assistance for women in abusive situations.

“Three times, I left with my kids,” she told the legislature.

“Twice, I went to shelters. Twice, I was forced to return or live on the street. Both times, I returned and the violence got worse, and the threats, which he could have carried out at any time, became more frequent and more intimidating.”

The bill was unanimously passed in large part because of Fitzpatrick’s moving commentary about the impact domestic violence has on women and their children.

In September, Ontario NDP Leader Andrea Horwath brought a forward a bill proposing 10 days of paid leave for people experiencing domestic or sexual violence.

Women, and increasingly men, are now speaking up in public forums to decry domestic and intimate partner violence.

In the areas of business and finance, women represent 51.2 per cent of the workforce in Canada. And so it’s high time employers provided proper supports to their female workers who are involved with abusive partners so that they can live safe and productive lives.

But more data and information is necessary to ensure change happens. Completing my 10-minute survey will help inform future workplace supports for people who are experiencing intimate partner abuse.

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