Sadly, it is far too common that we hear of news headlines
involving professional athletes charged or convicted of assaulting
their partners or spouses, e.g. "Kings Defenseman Voynov
Suspended Indefinitely", and "TSN Analyst Aaron
It should come as no surprise that professional sports teams are
not the only employers that face the complex legal and practical
challenges involved when consensual relationships between employees
break down and spill into the workplace or where an employee is the
perpetrator or victim of intimate partner violence
Where the perpetrator and the victim are not both employed by
the same employer, an employee's violent or abusive behavior
outside of work rarely meets the test for off-duty conduct, such
that it can be dealt with through workplace discipline. Moreover,
victims of domestic violence may not wish to disclose their
situation to a supervisor, even though their work performance or
attendance may be suffering. Supervisors may feel ill-equipped to
deal with IPV presenting at work, feeling that such issues are
better left to be dealt with by the police.
Setting aside the moral implications, the employer's
decision making is further complicated by the risk of a human
rights complaint if an employee is disciplined for poor attendance
or work performance that is caused by the employee's abusive
relationship and the employer knew or ought to have known this to
be the case. Employers must pay attention to workplace rumours,
unexplained bruises, and other indicators that an employee's
performance or attendance may be impacted by IPV. Depending on the
circumstances, employers may have a duty to inquire whether an
employee's family situation is impacting their work and whether
there are things that can be done to support that employee.
Another concern that employers must be alive to is whether an
employee who is charged with or convicted of domestic violence is
protected from discrimination in employment under the Human
Rights Code. The main question to be asked is whether the
charge is related to the perpetrator's employment. In certain
situations that link to employment will exist; for example, where
the perpetrator and the victim are both employees of the same
employer. However, employers must be cautious not to discipline or
discharge an employee simply because they find the
perpetrator's behavior repugnant.
The potential for IPV to spill into the workplace is a real
concern, so much so that the B.C. Occupational Health and
Safety Regulations require employers to conduct risk
assessments where there are interactions between employees and
persons other than co-workers that might lead to threats or
assaults in the workplace. Similar legal obligation also arise
under the Workers Compensation Act and under the
Regulations when violent situations may occur between two
employees. Employers must also decide how best to protect their
workers after conducting risk assessments.
WorkSafeBC has created tools to assist employers in conducting
risk assessments and meeting their obligations under the Act
Employees must understand that their employer is tuned in to
these issues, is supportive of victims of domestic violence and
will not tolerate violence in the workplace of any kind, including
Some practical steps that employers can take include:
Ensuring that the right messages come from Company
Developing policies and procedures specifically tailored
to protecting workers from domestic violence at work. Coat-
tailing IPV onto a general bullying and harassment policy is
Establishing supportive policies that address issues such
as restraining orders, confidentiality and reporting
Consider whether Employee and Family Assistance programs
provide employees with access to experts in the field of
IPV and provide access to those programs.
The content of this article is intended to provide a general
guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought
about your specific circumstances.
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Unfortunately, reasonable accommodation for employees in the workplace continues to be the source of significant litigation and even today we continue to see outrageous examples of employers behaving badly.
We are now beginning to see reported cases involving charges and subsequent fines laid against employers for failing to provide information, instruction and supervision to protect a worker from workplace violence.
On October 13, 2016, the Supreme Court of Canada denied leave to appeal an Ontario Court of Appeal decision which ordered an employer to pay a former employee 37 months of salary and benefits following termination.
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