Domestic violence and teleworking: employers are called out

While telework further blurs the line between personal and professional life, it’s high time for employers to realize their share of responsibility in the prevention of domestic violence, say women's groups.

In addition to being a source of financial security, work could previously represent a place of respite, without the presence of an abusive partner.

But with the containment measures imposed as part of the COVID-19 pandemic, opportunities to escape domestic abusers are becoming rarer and by the same token, so are chances to get help.

The telephone doesn’t ring as much in shelters, says the coordinator of the Maison des Femmes de Baie-Comeau, Helene Millier. And when it rings, the caller is sometimes a woman out for a walk or another hidden in her wardrobe, she adds.

The usefulness of workplaces to protect victims of domestic violence has been on the radar of Cote-Nord organizations for over 10 years already. Groups of women from the region have even turned to the Universite du Quebec à Montreal (UQAM) to explore the issue further.

Faced with the massive transition to telework, the team is currently producing explainer videos to sensitize employers to their often unsuspected role in this particularly critical period for victims of domestic violence.

“Abusive relationships run free out of sight and in a context where the worker is more isolated than ever, '' says Rachel Cox, professor in the department of legal sciences at UQAM, who has been involved in the project for about a year.

According to a study released by Statistics Canada last month, one in 10 women is concerned about domestic violence in their home during the country’s confinement period.

Employers are urged to hear from their staff, watch for signs of distress and be open to reporting confidentially.

If the need arises, they can call on the expertise of shelters, women's centers, help centres for victims of crime (CAVAC) and other specialized resources in their region, the study reads.

The videos also invite them to discuss accommodation, such as more flexible hours, priority return to the workplace and the possibility of consulting resources on work time.

Beyond these concrete measures, the attitude of the employer can send the message that domestic violence is not a private matter, but a social problem, says Rachel Cox.

“The employer's reaction can often be a crucial moment when the woman who is a victim of domestic violence sees how she is received when she reports the situation she experiences at home, '' said the professor.

Cox believes that the Quebec occupational health and safety commission should explicitly recognize employers' obligation in this area. Such provisions already exist in six Canadian provinces.

In Ontario and Alberta, women—whose situation was well known—had to be murdered at work before governments legislated, said Cox. “Let's not wait for a case in Quebec.”

This article by the Canadian Press was first published May 17, 2020.



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