Every employer has a duty to take measures necessary to prevent domestic violence in their workplace. This requires identifying and eliminating risks. But what does this mean in practice? And what are the consequences of failing to do so?
The rules depend on which laws apply to your workplace
The employer’s obligations depend on which laws apply to your workplace. There are two possibilities: provincial law and federal law. Most Quebec employees are governed by provincial law.
Federal law applies, for example, to employees of:
- the federal government
- banks (other than credit unions)
- radio and television stations
- interprovincial transportation companies
- grain elevators
- band councils
- railways that cross provincial or international borders
- telecommunications companies (telephone networks, internet providers, etc.)
- uranium mining and processing companies and nuclear energy companies
Federal and provincial employers face the same consequences if they fail to act when required.
Workplaces governed by Quebec law
Employers in sectors governed by provincial law have a duty to identify and eliminate workplace hazards. In this context, the term “workplace” includes:
- the vicinity of the workplace, including employee parking areas
- the residence of employees who work from home
Employers must identify workplace risks to their employees’ health and safety. This includes the risk of domestic violence. These risks can be identified in a prevention program or an action plan.
When identifying risks of violence, employers must respect their workers’ privacy. This means they cannot investigate their employees’ private lives or ask invasive questions.
Once employers have identified the risks in their workplace, they must take steps to eliminate them.
The law does not specify the workplace measures employers must adopt to protect victims of domestic violence. However, the Commission des normes, de l’équité, de la santé et de la sécurité au travail (labour standards, pay equity and workplace health and safety board) has published a list (French only) of the kind of steps employers can take to meet this obligation: Violence conjugale, familiale ou à caractère sexuel (CNESST).
Employers can also use the measures required of federally-regulated employers as a model.
Workplaces governed by federal law
Federal employers must identify risks of violence in the workplace, just like in the provincially-regulated employers. But federally-regulated employers have some additional obligations. These include providing training, establishing a prevention policy, and making support services available to employees.
Federally-regulated employers must identify factors that increase the risk of violence in the workplace. In doing so, they must take into account:
- the protective measures that are already in place
- any reports related to workplace violence
- the employees’ working conditions
- circumstances outside the workplace, such as domestic violence that could give rise to violence in the workplace
- the physical layout of the workplace, including things like the ability to leave easily in an emergency
Employers must work with their health and safety committees and representatives to identify workplace risks. For more information, visit the Government of Canada website.
Employers must take training on workplace violence and must provide training to employees as well. This training must cover:
- how to recognize, minimize, and prevent workplace violence
- how to respond to workplace violence
All new employees must receive this training within their first three months of work, and so must all employees who are assigned to a new role for which there is an increased risk of workplace violence. Employers must update the training whenever necessary, and not less than once every three years. All employees must retake the training after every update.
Implementing a prevention policy
Employers must also develop a policy to prevent workplace harassment and violence. The policy must contain the following elements:
- a description of the risk factors that could contribute to workplace harassment and violence
- the contact information of the person in charge of receiving information about domestic violence
- a description of how the employer will protect the privacy of the people involved in a violent incident
The policy must also contain a summary of:
- the training provided on workplace violence
- the emergency procedures for cases of immediate danger
- the recourses available to employees who are the victims of workplace violence
Employers must make the policy available to all employees and must update it whenever something needs to be changed or once three years have passed from the previous update.
Visit the Government of Canada website for a sample harassment and violence prevention policy.
Making support services available to employees
Employers must provide employees with contact information for the domestic violence support services in their area, including:
- medical services
- psychological services
- other support services, like crisis hotlines and women’s shelters
Consequences of not taking action
Employers who do not fulfill these obligations may:
- be inspected or investigated
- receive a notice to comply within a specified time
- be fined
A workplace can be directly affected if an employee is the victim of domestic violence. Éducaloi has developed a training on this subject, available at: La violence conjugale : rôle et obligations légales des milieux de travail | Apprentissage en ligne | Éducaloi (educaloi.qc.ca) (in French only)