Violence at home poisoning Alberta workplaces, new study finds

Violence at home is spilling into Alberta workplaces, causing havoc in the professional lives of victims and placing undue strain on their colleagues, a new survey suggests.

The Leger survey, released by the Alberta Council of Women's Shelters on Thursday, suggests that 25 per cent of Albertans have been exposed to workplace violence in the past year. 

Of those respondents, 14 per cent had witnessed workplace violence, and 11 per cent had firsthand experience with it.

According to the survey, workplace bullying is the most common form of workplace violence, followed by the impacts of domestic abuse. 

Of those surveyed, 37 per cent reported encounters with bullying in their workplace. Sexual harassment (23 per cent) and sexual violence (18 per cent) were also pervasive. 

"We often hear about sexual harassment in the workplace and bullying in the workplace, but next to bullying, domestic violence is the largest issue workers have observed," said Jan Reimer, executive director of the Alberta Council of Women's Shelters.

"We think domestic violence is a private matter but it does spill over into the workplace. It is much more common than people think." 

"Domestic violence is a workplace issue. It's costing your workplace, whether you know it or not."

CBC

The survey conducted in June and July interviewed 1,200 adults in Alberta who had been employed outside the home within the past two years in an organization larger than five people. 

Of those who had experienced workplace violence in the past year, more than one-third said the abuse caused stress, concern at work and conflict with co-workers.

Around 17 per cent said their abuser had physically come to the workplace. Others dealt with abusive phone calls and text messages at work. 

Others had been late or forced to miss work due to abuse at home. The abuser may control their schedule or their income, Reimer said.

"There are lots of examples of this, stalking at work is one," Reimer said. "There are frequent calls to the office, keeping tabs on her. Domestic violence is so often about power and control."

'People don't know the signs'

Respondents also showed limited awareness of the legislative changes to Occupational Health and Safety legislation in 2018 which, for the first time, included sexual and domestic violence as specific workplace hazards.  

Only 26 per cent of respondents indicated their employer had separate policies to address and prevent domestic violence.  

Reimer said the survey is evidence that more needs to be done. Threats, intimidation, verbal abuse and physical attacks not only harm the morale of employees but endanger their safety.

"Often for employers, until it becomes an urgent matter, it's not really on anybody's radar," she said. "But it's far better to be prepared. People don't know the signs."