How to get support from your workplace if you're experiencing domestic violence

Quick resources 

If you are in immediate danger, please call 9-1-1 (in Canada) for emergency services in your area.

If you are fleeing domestic violence and require immediate shelter or counselling, connects those experiencing domestic violence to the closest shelter along with crisis lines across Canada. 

What is domestic violence?

Domestic violence is considered to be any form of abuse or neglect that an individual or their child experiences from a family member, or from someone with whom the individual has or had an intimate relationship.

Domestic violence can take many forms. While often recognized as actions involving overt physical and sexual violence, domestic violence often occurs in the absence of physical abuse. 

Common non-physical forms of domestic violence include:

  • Emotional abuse: for example, putting the victim down or humiliating them, making the victim feel guilty or crazy
  • Intimidation: instilling fear through looks and gestures, smashing or destroying things, abusing pets, displaying weapons, harassing or stalking the victim
  • Coercion and threats: making or carrying out threats to do something to harm the victim, threatening to leave the victim, threatening self-harm, threatening to report the victim to authorities, or making the victim do illegal things
  • Isolation: controlling daily activities, including what the victim does, what the victim wears, who the victim talks to; behaving in ways to jeopardize the victim’s support network; using jealousy to justify control
  • Minimizing, denying and blaming: denying the abuse ever happened, shifting blame for the abuse, making light of the abuse
  • Economic abuse or financial control: preventing the victim from getting or keeping their job, taking the victim’s money, making the victim ask for money, putting the victim on an allowance, not letting the victim know about or have access to family income
  • Enforcing rigid gender roles: asserting gender stereotypes as men’s and women’s roles within the family, including determining who makes all the big decisions
  • Using children to manipulate the victim: threatening to take the children away, making the victim feel guilty about the children, or using children to relay messages

Leaving an abusive relationship often doesn’t put an end to the violence. Leaving an abuser often magnifies the abuser’s feelings of loss of control over the relationship, and the abuser can resort to further violence and abuse in an attempt to gain back control. In reality, the risk for domestic violence increases upon separation.

Who is at risk of domestic violence?

Domestic violence can impact anyone regardless of age, race, gender, sexual orientation, education level, or socioeconomic status; however, some groups are at greater risk of victimization. 

In Canada, females represent the majority of domestic violence victims. In 2019, two-thirds (67%) of victims of domestic violence were female. This includes:

  • Girls – 60% of child victims in domestic violence
  • Senior women – 58% of victims of elder abuse in domestic violence
  • Women – 79% of victims of intimate partner violence

Women are also far more likely to report being fearful of their abusive partner relative to men (37% versus 9%, respectively). The presence of fear is important when identifying the victim and abuser in domestic violence, as the significant increase in fear among women can indicate that the violence they are experiencing is more coercive, severe, and is in response to a larger pattern of control that they may be experiencing in the relationship.

In addition to women and girls being at an increased risk of experiencing domestic violence, other groups are at greater risk of domestic violence, or face additional barriers to accessing support due to the oppressive social forces that compound their marginalization:

  • Approximately 6 in 10 Indigenous women have experienced domestic violence during their lifetime, which can be attributed to the ongoing intergenerational effects of colonialization.
  • Immigrant women may be vulnerable to experiencing domestic violence due to language and cultural barriers, financial dependency, lack of knowledge of Canadian systems and resources, and fear of deportation. 
  • Irrespective of age, women are more likely to have a disability than men, and having a disability may increase their vulnerability to domestic violence due to increased reliance on their partner and isolation. 
  • 3 in 5 trans women reported experiencing domestic violence since the age of 16, and trans women face barriers to support due to cisnormativity and gender biases.
Why don’t victims just leave?

Leaving a situation of domestic violence is often a difficult and complicated process. Rather than asking “why don’t they just leave?” consider the perspective of “what causes them to stay?”

The reasons why someone may stay in an abusive relationship are often complex. It is vital that support networks, including co-workers, make an ongoing effort to listen to the realities of those experiencing domestic violence. It’s also important to give them a safe space to voice their concerns without fear of being stigmatized, help provide resources, and offer support in the way that those experiencing the violence have asked for, regardless of whether they choose to leave the relationship.

There are many reasons why someone experiencing domestic violence may stay in an abusive relationship. Some reasons that may cause a person experiencing domestic violence to stay include:

  • Fear that the violence will get worse – The risk of domestic violence increases at the time of separation as the abuser is losing control. Because of this, the abuser will often threaten to harm the victim, themselves, or any children to stop the victim from leaving.
  • Financial abuse – Abusers often take control of their partner’s finances to make them financially dependent so that they are unable to leave the relationship.
  • Isolation – Abusers often find ways to socially isolate their partners from their support networks so that they rely entirely on the abuser for survival.
  • Constant undermining to reduce the victim’s self-esteem – Abusers will frequently put down the victim to erode their self-worth, leading the victim to believe that they can’t make normal, everyday decisions without the abuser.
  • Spiritual abuse – Abusers may use the victim’s spiritual beliefs to deter them from leaving. 
  • Immigration concerns – Those who have been sponsored by their abuser may face threats of deportation and separation from any children they may have if they leave. This fear may be compounded by any language barriers that exist.
Domestic violence and the workplace

The effects of domestic violence often follow the victim to work, making it a workplace issue. A study by the Canadian Labour Congress and the University of Western Ontario found 1 in 3 workers reported experiencing domestic violence. Additionally, over 80% of those experiencing domestic violence reported that their work performance was negatively affected, including 8.5% who had reported that they had lost their job due to the abuse they were experiencing.

Abusers often find ways to jeopardize the victim’s employment so that the victim remains financially dependent on the abuser, making it increasingly difficult to leave the abusive relationship.

Those who experience domestic violence may disclose the abuse to a trusted co-worker. Therefore, the workplace provides a unique opportunity in providing safety and support to those who need it. We all play a role in eliminating domestic violence and keeping our workplaces safe.

If you are experiencing work-related issues as a result of domestic violence, please contact an Employment Relations Officer.

A co-worker who is experiencing domestic violence may face challenges at work, including (but not limited to):

  • Intimidation and harassment by the abuser while the victim is at work (including frequent attempts by the abuser to call, text, email or show up at the victim’s workplace)
  • Harassment of co-workers by the abuser
  • Difficulties focusing and strained performance
  • Frequent absenteeism

Under the Canada Labour Code, employers have a responsibility and obligation to protect and prevent harassment and violence in the workplace, including domestic violence.

Domestic violence leave


In 2019, PIPSC won domestic violence leave, which provides public service workers in the Core Public Administration and other federal agencies with 10 days of paid domestic violence leave.

Domestic violence leave is available to:

  • any employee who is experiencing domestic violence in the form of abuse or neglect by an intimate partner, regardless of relationship status (current, former, dating, common-law, married), sexuality, or gender
  • an employee whose child is experiencing domestic violence in the form of abuse or neglect by a family member

Domestic violence leave can be used to: 

  • seek care and/or support for themselves or their dependent child in respect of a physical or psychological injury or disability
  • to obtain services from an organization which provides services for individuals who are subject to domestic violence
  • to obtain professional counselling 
  • to relocate temporarily or permanently
  • to seek legal or law enforcement assistance or to prepare for or participate in any civil or criminal legal proceeding

Domestic violence leave provides some relief and support to those experiencing domestic violence in their lives. To learn more about domestic violence leave, read your collective agreement found on your group page, contact your employer’s human resources department, or contact your steward. 

What if 10 days is not enough?

Those experiencing the effects of domestic violence may require more time off from their workplace. In these circumstances, there are other types of leave that can be accessed. More information on these leaves can be found on the care leave page or contact your steward

Resources and support

Collective agreements
Details about domestic violence leave provisions are in your collective agreement, which can be found on your group page.

Employee and Family Assistance Programs
Most PIPSC members with federal, provincial or private employers have access to an Employee and Family Assistance Program (EFAP). Your EFAP provides counseling, referral services, and sometimes other specialized support. All services are confidential and free.

Assaulted Women's Helpline (24/7)
Assaulted Women’s Helpline is a free and confidential telephone, TTY, and online chat crisis line. The service is available 24/7 to all women in the province of Ontario who have experienced any form of abuse.

Fem’aide is a francophone helpline for women experiencing gender-based violence. The service is available 24/7. Fem’aide provides support, information, and referrals to community resources.

Shelter Safe
Shelter Safe is a national online resource that allows women to find the nearest shelter to them as well as provincial and territorial domestic violence crisis lines. 

Talk 4 Healing
Talk 4 Healing is a culturally grounded, and fully confidential helpline (talk, text, and chat) for Indigenous women. The service is available in 14 languages, including Cree and Anishinaabe.

Bystander intervention training
Video Resources