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Violence in the Workplace - Domestic Violence

What is workplace violence?

Most people think of violence as a physical assault. However, workplace violence is a much broader problem. It is any act in which a person is abused, threatened, intimidated or assaulted in his or her employment. Rumours, swearing, verbal abuse, pranks, arguments, property damage, vandalism, sabotage, pushing, theft, physical assaults, psychological trauma, anger-related incidents, rape, arson and murder are all examples of workplace violence.

See the OSH Answers “Violence in the Workplace” for more information about workplace violence in general.

What is domestic violence?

Domestic violence is a pattern of behaviour used by one person to gain power and control over another with whom they have or have had an intimate relationship. It can include any of the above forms of violent behaviours. There are additional dimensions to violence in a domestic relationship that are unique, such as:

  • using property, pets, or children to threaten and intimidate,
  • economic abuse such as withholding or stealing money, stopping a partner from reporting to work, or from getting or keeping a job, or
  • sexual, spiritual, or emotional abuse.

Who can be victims of domestic violence?

Anyone can be a victim of domestic violence, regardless of age, race, religion, sexual orientation, economic status, or educational background. The abuser may be a current or former spouse or intimate partner, relative, or friend. Men and women can both be abused or abusive in their relationships.

Is domestic violence a workplace issue?

Yes. When domestic violence follows a victim to work, it becomes a workplace issue. An aggressor can present a risk to the victim or others in the workplace itself. A study of domestic violence in Canada and its impact on the workplace has found more than one third of workers across the country have experienced domestic violence in their lifetime, and for more than half of those affected, the violence followed them to work.

You may have heard people say “domestic violence is a personal matter”, “it’s none of my business” or “that’s between a husband and wife”, for example. These attitudes further isolate people experiencing domestic violence creating a barrier between the victim and those who may be in a position to provide valuable support and assistance. The workplace can play an important role between people experiencing violence of any kind, and assisting individuals to get the necessary help.

What effect does domestic violence have on the workplace?

People experiencing domestic violence often feel isolated. They may feel ashamed, or have concerns that their situation will compromise their employment so they are afraid to say anything. Similarly, those who suspect domestic violence may be affecting an employee are afraid to approach this subject or intervene for many reasons. This further isolation increases the risk to those who experience domestic violence. In addition, people experiencing domestic violence often experience difficulty getting to work and state that their work performance is negatively affected. Other implications for the workplace include:

  • reduced productivity and motivation
  • decreased worker morale
  • potential harm to employees, co-workers and/or clients
  • increased replacement, recruitment and training costs if victims are dismissed for poor performance or absenteeism
  • strained co-worker relations

Are there laws about protecting workers from domestic violence in the workplace?

Some jurisdictions expressly include domestic violence within occupational health and safety legislation, while others do not. In Ontario, the Occupational Health and Safety Act includes a provision for “domestic violence” in section 32.0.4. Health and Safety Guidelines titled Workplace Violence and Harassment: Understanding the Law have been developed by the Ministry of Labour.

In Manitoba, the Employment Standards Code was amended. The amendment “Leave for Victims of Domestic Violence, Leave for Serious Injury or Illness and Extension of Compassionate Care Leave” provides victims of domestic violence with paid and unpaid leave so they have the assurance of job protection while they seek safety. This action could include finding suitable housing, seeking care for physical or psychological injuries, accessing legal services including putting protective orders in place, etc.

However, it is the employer’s general duty across all jurisdictions to ensure all employees have a safe and healthy workplace, including protecting all employees from risk of domestic violence in the workplace.

What can the workplace do?

A supportive and accommodating workplace provides the victim an opportunity to establish financial independence, and provides victims access to the help they need in their unique situation.

As part of their workplace violence prevention policy, employers should also take responsibility to:

Identify Warning Signs: Because people who experience domestic violence are more likely to report it to a co-worker than to others in the workplace, all employees should be trained to recognize the warning signs and risk factors for domestic violence.

Establish a support network: Various workplace parties can offer support and assistance to employees experiencing domestic violence. Working together in a team which may include the supervisor, trusted co-worker, human resources, Employee Assistance Program (EAP) provider and union representatives may be a helpful approach to providing a supportive network.

Develop a Safety Plan: Workplaces can create an individualized personal and workplace safety plans to address the situation of the worker and other employees. Update the plans as circumstances change. Share the plans with anyone who needs to know about the situation in order to ensure safety. Safety plans may include:

  • Ask if the victim has already established protection or restraining orders. Help assist to make sure all the conditions of that order are followed.
  • Talk to the employee, work together to identify solutions. Follow up and check on their well-being.
  • Ask for a recent photo or description of the abuser. Alert others such as security and reception so they are aware of who to look for.
  • When necessary, relocate the worker so that he/she cannot be seen through windows or from the outside.
  • Do not include their contact information in publically available company directories or website.
  • Change their phone number, have another person screen their calls, or block the abusers calls/emails.
  • Pre-program 911 on a phone or cell phone. Install a panic button in their work area or provide personal alarms.
  • Provide a well-lit parking spot near the building, or escort the individual to their car or to public transit.
  • Offer flexible work scheduling if it can be a solution.
  • Call the police if the abuser exhibits criminal activity such as stalking or unauthorized electronic monitoring.
  • If the victim and abuser work at the same workplace, do not schedule both employees to work at the same time or location wherever possible.
  • If the abuser works at the same workplace, use disciplinary procedures to hold the abuser accountable for unacceptable behaviour in the workplace.

[Adapted from: Making It Our Business (2014) from the Centre for Research & Education on Violence against Women & Children]

Refer: Seek expert advice for safety planning from your local women’s shelter or the police. Threats of violence should be reported and emergency procedures should be clearly communicated to all employees.

Where can I find more information on domestic violence in the workplace?

(*We have mentioned these organizations as a means of providing a potentially useful referral. You should contact the organization(s) directly for more information about their services. Please note that mention of these organizations does not represent a recommendation or endorsement by CCOHS of these organizations over others of which you may be aware.)

Document last updated on January 17, 2017

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Although every effort is made to ensure the accuracy, currency and completeness of the information, CCOHS does not guarantee, warrant, represent or undertake that the information provided is correct, accurate or current. CCOHS is not liable for any loss, claim, or demand arising directly or indirectly from any use or reliance upon the information.