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Dealing with Workplace and Domestic Violence - an article written by Oriana Kolonsky

While workplace violence, bullying, and harassment tend to be a topic we often ignore, they absolutely should not be. When ignored, workplaces experience more accidents, hazards, or claim costs, while having low retention and employee morale.

The simple solution? Empathy (or as I call it, the “human approach”), communication, and fun.

Definition of workplace harassment, violence and bullying

With recent legislative changes and media coverage, we have become attuned to what workplace bullying, harassment, and violence mean.

Below is a brief overview.

Defined as a single or continuous incident with unwelcome conduct, which may include comments, bullying, or any action intended to intimidate, offend, harass, degrade, hurt, hold captive, or humiliate.

It is an issue that creates an unhealthy work environment resulting in physical or psychological harm to workers.

Can include:

  • physical assault or hostility

  • verbal or written threats

  • jokes or inappropriate comments/humour

  • intimidation, humiliation, and segregation

  • domestic or sexual violence

Definition of domestic violence

Domestic violence becomes a workplace hazard when it occurs or spills over into the workplace. It can put victims or co-workers at risk.

It is a pattern of behavior used to maintain and control power over an intimate partner. Abuse can be physical, sexual, emotional, or financial.

Often causing psychological harm with threats or actions to influence a person. Behaviors intend to frighten, terrorize, intimidate, manipulate, hurt, humiliate, blame, or injure.

What are the signs?

Are the signs noticeable for workers or employers? Yes and no. Just like every person, each situation is different.

While some incidents may be visual or audible, others are not. Some people are vocal and vulnerable, while others are reserved or quiet.

Victim signs

Social isolation, continuous absences, complaints of unfair treatment, confusion/distraction, underperforming, addiction, change in appearance, lashing out, crying or avoiding certain topics.

Signs of abusers

Threats, disrespect, inappropriate comments or behavior, challenging authority, physical altercations, addiction, disregarding safety, or general narcissism.

Hard to see signs

Any of the above, depending on the situation. Unless we see, hear, or feel it, it can be hard to identify. As well, not everyone feels safe or comfortable in reporting workplace issues. And let’s face it, if you’re a Manager with 100 plus employees, it can be a challenge to keep track of everything.

Empathic approach versus oldschool performance management

Empathy — a vital leadership competency. A trait often overlooked or under-trained for. It’s the ability to listen, experience, and relate to the emotions or experiences of your workers. It’s about showing respect and treating people individually.

Performance management – often utilized in the wrong (oldschool) way.

The old method focuses on negative or disciplinary action. Often used as a yearly task with little to no outcomes or measures. Performance management should be utilized like a goal-setting report card.

Firstly, understand your worker's skills, education, and interests. Find out what tasks they like and dislike. What are their career aspirations? What challenges do they face in their role? What training might help them? Are there are barriers preventing them from fulfilling their full potential?

Learn about your employees and implement a plan based off the questions above. Focus on their abilities and provide support to strengthen their weaknesses. Listen and action workers' concerns. Let them focus on more of what they like and less on what they don’t like. Find solutions together.

Don’t get me wrong, disciplinary action is sometimes required. It should be documented and dealt with. The difference is reframing behaviors into more positive solutions. The majority of incidents can be utilized to correct and educate workers, instead of penalizing them.

If you have an empathetic approach and utilize the correct performance management style, you will have better retention and less accidents or incidents. If employees don’t fear management and feel comfortable in their workplace, you will have a lot less to worry about.

Controls to prevent workplace violence

·Implement background or criminal record checks

·Investigate and take suitable corrective action promptly

·Provide supports and resources for workers enduring workplace violence

·Proper performance management and career development plan

·Incorporate a variety of communication methods (anonymous tip line or email, Microsoft teams or zoom, designated mentor or contact); tailor to all types and styles of workers

·System to report threats and incidents

·Workplace emergency response plan

·Security or police contact details

·Workplace violence policy and program in place, including procedures

·Risk factor and hazard assessment tool

·Working at home or alone procedures; buddy or check-in

·Training in recognizing, preventing, and dealing with workplace violence

Create solutions or opportunities for workers enduring domestic violence

·If the victim works from home, provide the option to work from the office

·Have a system where your worker checks in at the start and end of their shifts. This ensures you know the worker is safe.

·Provide alternative working locations if the worker needs to flee their partner.

·If possible, provide relocation assistance or services

·Create a plan with the worker and office on how to handle calls or walk-in’s from the abuser

·Provide employee family assistance or counseling services

Supports in place for employers and workers

There are a variety of supports available for both workers and employers. The main ones will be WCB, the provincial or federal governments, Human Rights, Trucking HR Canada, victim services, or employee family assistance programs. Below are a few helpful links.














·Harassment and violence are defined as workplace hazards in Alberta’s updated Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) Act.

·WCB may cover a worker who developed a diagnosable injury or illness related to workplace bullying, harassment or violence. Alberta WCB Act and policy.

·Federally regulated employers must abide by the Canada Labour Code, which outlines worker and employer requirements.

·The Alberta Human Rights Act and the Canadian Human Rights Act







Learn more about Oriana Kolonsky, Workforce Strategist, Labour Relations Expert, and an Industry Advocate.




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