Conjugal violence reaches into workplace, campaign tells employers

An association of women’s shelters says it plans to send a conjugal violence campaign poster, an information brochure and contact information for shelters across the province to 1,000 of Quebec’s largest employers and unions starting this week.

West Island Women’s Shelter

Conjugal violence starts in the home, but it carries over into the workplace through threatening text and email messages, phone calls, tracking devices and unwelcome visits from the abusers, a new awareness campaign launched by an association of women’s shelters wants to tell the province’s employers and unions.

And, yes, bosses and colleagues can do a lot to help the victims, the Regroupement des maisons pour femmes victimes de violence conjugale says in its campaign message.

“Shelters can’t do the work alone,” association president Chantal Arseneault said at a press conference in Montreal on Saturday to launch “Milieux de travail alliés contre la violence conjugale.”

“It’s only with the commitment of an entire society that we can really curb conjugal violence.”

The association says it plans to send a campaign poster, an information brochure and contact information for shelters across the province to 1,000 of Quebec’s largest employers and unions starting this week. Its first awareness campaign in 2016 was aimed at municipalities.

“We’re inviting employers and unions today to take concrete action to support and protect women who are victims of conjugal violence,” Arseneault said, adding the association has a network of 43 shelters across Quebec that can help employers and unions develop workplace plans to protect victims.

“We want to encourage employers and unions to act. They can put in place measures that often cost very little, but can protect and support women who are victims of conjugal violence to take control of their lives.”

A company can change an employee’s work telephone number, extension number and email, Arseneault said, offering examples. The company can also adjust the employee’s hours or move their seat if their desk is by a window where they can be observed from the outside. And the company can make sure the employee is always accompanied to or from their car when they leave or arrive at work.

A 2014 study led by Western University in Ontario found one worker in three in Canada said they have been the victim of violence by their current or former partner in a relationship. More than half of those victims said the violence carried on while they were at work.

“We know that conjugal violence generally goes on between the four walls of the home, but I have to tell you that conjugal violence leaves the private sphere,” she said. “And when women find themselves at work or at a lunch with friends, the text messages come, the calls start as well, the control follows everywhere.”

Abusers will hang around the workplace to spy on their targets, she said. Technology has also enabled abusers to use location tracking on smartphones to stalk their targets.

“Just yesterday, a woman told me that her spouse would get her to use FaceTime, a video chat application, a couple of times a day to make sure she was at work,” Arseneault said.

And some victims will ask someone at work to drive them somewhere where they can receive assistance because their spouse tracks the mileage on their cars to ensure they’re only driving to and from work.

According to a 2015 study for the Conference Board of Canada, 71 per cent of employers reported they have had to protect a victim of conjugal violence.

“If an employer thinks it doesn’t happen in their workplace, it’s simply because the person doesn’t feel safe enough to ask for help,” said France Paradis, a union vice-president representing women in the Fédération des travailleurs et travailleuses du Québec (FTQ).

FTQ members unanimously adopted a resolution in 2016 demanding their union negotiate for paid leave for employees who are victims of conjugal violence. It exists in other provinces, such as Manitoba and Ontario. Quebec offers less than other provinces, she said, providing two days of paid absence a year to victims of domestic violence.

The union is trying negotiate to include five days of paid leave in its collective agreements, Paradis said.

The FTQ is also trying to negotiate with employers to protect victims of conjugal violence, who are likely to miss days of work because of injuries and be less productive, from disciplinary measures and administrative letters so they don’t lose their job.

Conjugal violence may be verbal, physical, psychological, sexual or economic. The latter takes the form of depriving the victim of resources and controlling and monitoring their money to create financial dependency.

Paradis said there are examples of abusive spouses who phone the payroll office of their spouse’s company to find out when the next pay raise is due because they’re tracking the spouse’s income.

Workplaces could use a women’s advocate trained to assist employees with problems of workplace harassment and domestic abuse, said Manon Camiré, who trains women’s advocates for Unifor, a Canada-wide union that was formed from the merger of the Canadian Auto Workers and the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers unions. Unifor has a women’s advocate program to train personnel who can assist victims of violence to get the help they need.

“We want conjugal violence to be recognized as it was in Ontario a few years ago already,” Camiré told the press conference. “But an obligation to have a women’s advocate in every workplace would really be ideal.”

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