“I have an employee working from home, and I think they are experiencing domestic violence. What are my obligations in this situation?”
Following a Bromelin webinar on work-place harassment, we were posed with a question regarding an employer’s social and legal responsibilities when an employee who exclusively works from home is potentially a victim of domestic violence.
A serious consequence of the COVID-19 pandemic and the work-from-home reality is the rise of intimate partner violence incidents. In Quebec alone between February 5 and March 23, 2021, seven women lost their lives to this domestic violence surge. As Quebec Deputy Premier and Public Security Minister Geneviève Guilbault said to Global News, “It’s seven deaths too many. Seven tragedies that as women, as a government, as a society we can not accept.”
Recently, when faced with some red flags, our Axxel-Bromelin consultant did not waste a second and organized a confidential meeting with our client’s senior leadership team to raise concern and suspicion of domestic violence for one of their employee. Working closely with relevant parties, the issue was brought up with the suspected victim and appropriate measures were taken. In these moments, paying close attention to small details that could indicate dangerous situations at one’s home, be it a client, an employee, or a colleague, can have a life-saving impact. Knowing what to look for, and acting with discretion and respect, is a duty bestowed upon us all to ensure security and safely in work-from-home environments.
Stigma, fear of retribution, and worry about jeopardizing their job will keep many victims from disclosing harassment or harmed by a household member. Certain Canadian provinces have legislation making it mandatory for employers to protect employees who are experiencing (or who are at risk of experiencing) domestic violence. The Canadian organization Workplace Strategies for Mental Health offers some excellent tips for employers to help support employees experiencing domestic violence and to develop and enact safety plans. In addition, ensuring all employees are trained in recognizing the signs and know of available company and community resources (such as counselling, EAP, and local family violence prevention and support services).
According to the Centre for Research and Education on Violence Against Women and Children there are indicators that could suggest a colleague may be experiencing violence against them. These include:
- Changes in performance or quality of work;
- An increased intensity of emails, phone calls and texts;
- The individual may be more anxious, fearful or emotionally flat, or may be wearing clothing that is unusual or inappropriate for the season (turtlenecks in summer, sunglasses and heavy makeup);
- They may have a lack of access to financial resources or have ongoing absences or lateness to work.
Recognizing changes in performance and offering appropriate support can pose a challenge if your employee works from home. Below are some of the ways in which you, as an employer, can help:
- Have regular one-on-one meetings, virtual or in person.
- Broach the situation sensitively by gently suggesting the employee has not seemed to be themselves of late.
- Ask if there is a personal situation, and if there is something you can do to help.
- Advise the employee where they can go to get support from a violence prevention counsellor, and to develop a personal safety plan.
Research shows that reaching out is especially critical if the employee is considering or in the middle of a separation. During this time, statistics indicate a previous history of abuse makes the victim extremely vulnerable to violence if they are trying to leave the relationship. Create a work safety and security plan if there is the potential that the perpetrator could show up at your place of business. All steps must be done with integrity, sensitivity, planning and without violating the confidentiality and privacy of your employee.
If you’d like advice on how to address a complex situation like this, contact us and we’d be happy to help. You can email us regarding any HR issue by clicking here.