Domestic violence and the workplace

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Sarah Copsey, EU-OSHA


This article discusses how domestic violence can spill over into the workplace and what practical steps can be taken in the workplace. While domestic violence can affect the workplace, only fairly recently has it been recognised as an issue that should be addressed as part of measures to eliminate violence and harassment at work.

What is domestic violence

In 2011 a Council of Europe convention defined domestic violence as ‘All acts of physical, sexual, psychological or economic violence that occur within the family or domestic unit, irrespective of biological or legal family ties, or between former or current spouses or partners, whether or not the perpetrator shares or has shared the same residence as the victim[1][2]. An ETUC publication on workplace harassment and violence against women this states that ‘Domestic violence includes physical and other forms of coercive and emotional/psychological control and threats, such as control over social interactions, control of autonomy, control of children or control of money, which have profound psychological consequences and impact on a woman’s confidence in her ability to leave a violent relationship[3]. The majority of incidents of domestic violence involve male perpetrators and female victims. For example, in the UK in the year ending March 2018, nine times more women than men were killed by their partner or ex-partner[4].  However, men can experience domestic violence from female partners or ex-partners and it can occur in same-sex relationships or former relationships.

Effects of domestic violence in the workplace

Domestic violence is a workplace issue if a victim is harassed, threatened or stalked at work by a partner or ex-partner[5], which can have a significant impact on her capacity to get to work, to work effectively and to stay in her job. It can cause stress and affect the morale of those workers who witness such behaviour by a colleague’s partner or ex-partner or fear witnessing such behaviour. Colleagues may answer an abusive phone call and it could also put them in physical danger, for example, if an angry partner turns up at the workplace. The partner or ex-partner may work in the same workplace. Therefore, it may not only affect the performance of tasks but the whole atmosphere of the workplace, negatively affecting the victim, co-workers and the organization[6][7][8]. If the place of work is open to members of the public, such as a school or hospital, it can have an effect on the service provision and those who use it.

Domestic violence as a workplace issue

Domestic violence is a relatively new workplace bargaining issue that has the effect of widening the reach of the employment relationship by recognising the interconnection between work and private life[9]. Some government authorities do formally recognise it in law as a workplace issue, for example, Australia, New Zealand and Ontario in Canada. For example, amendments to Ontario’s Occupational Health and Safety Act in 2009[10] require employers in the Canadian province to take reasonable precautions to protect employees from domestic violence in the workplace. Article 32.0.4 on domestic violence states “If an employer becomes aware, or ought reasonably to be aware, that domestic violence that would likely expose a worker to physical injury may occur in the workplace, the employer shall take every precaution reasonable in the circumstances for the protection of the worker.”

In other countries, voluntary agreements in the workplace have been adopted[11][12].  Where domestic violence is covered in national collective agreements and workplace agreements and procedures, this may be as an occupational safety and health issue or as part of workplace equality[13]. In some EU Member States, companies over a certain size are required to have gender equality plans[14] and health and safety issues such as third-party violence and specifically domestic violence could be included in these plans.

The ETUC[15] report includes details of the legal framework on domestic violence and domestic violence at work in eleven EU Member States and gives examples of collective agreements and workplace policies. For example,

  • In France, the Gender Equality Plans of the Ministries of Finance and Economy refer to violence in the workplace and to the responsibility of HR staff and managers to have tools to prevent domestic violence at work.
  • In Spain, the Organic Law 1/2004 on protection against domestic violence seeks to combat acts of violence that are considered discriminatory, and includes measure to enable victims of domestic violence to remain in work. An example of a collective agreement comes from energy company Ednesa, which provides for revised and flexible working hours, social care, legal assistance, protection orders and counselling for victims.

In June 2019, ILO Convention 190 concerning the elimination of violence and harassment in the world of work[16] was adopted and the impact of domestic violence on the world of work is included in the Convention. Countries who ratify the Convention undertake to adopt the measures set out in the Convention. As EU countries ratify the agreement there will be an increase in measures in Europe regarding domestic violence in the workplace. Two countries need to ratify the convention for it to come into force. The ILO lists countries[17] who have ratified the convention.

The ILO Convention notes that ‘that domestic violence can affect employment, productivity and health and safety, and that governments, employers’ and workers’ organisations and labour market institutions can help, as part of other measures, to recognise, respond to and address the impacts of domestic violence. Estimates by the European Institute for Gender Equality (EIGE) show a high economic cost to not addressing domestic violence at work, in terms of lost productivity, absence from work and lost jobs[18] .

ILO Convention 190 and Recommendation 205 in relation to domestic violence at work

ILO Convention 190 on eliminating violence and harassment in the world of work sets out global standards on work-related harassment and violence. It recognises that violence and harassment at work can be a human rights violation or abuse, posing a threat to equal opportunities. It defines “violence and harassment” as behaviours, practices or threats “that aim at, result in, or are likely to result in physical, psychological, sexual or economic harm.”

According to Article 10 (f) of ILO Convention 190 on eliminating violence and harassment in the world of work (Members should take appropriate measures to) ‘recognize the effects of domestic violence and, so far as is reasonably practicable, mitigate its impact in the world of work’.

Article 9 (c) of the Convention calls for the identification of hazards and assessment of the risks of violence and harassment, with the participation of workers and their representatives, and take measures to prevent and control them

ILO Recommendation 205 on the Convention sets out practical measures for implementing the Convention[19]. In particular, it details further the use of workplace risk assessments. The Convention and Recommendation also call for training and awareness-raising measures.

The Recommendation states that Members should take appropriate measures to: promote the effective recognition of the right to collective bargaining at all levels as a means of preventing and addressing violence and harassment and, to the extent possible, mitigating the impact of domestic violence in the world of work. Appropriate measures to mitigate the impacts of domestic violence in the world of work referred to in Article 10(f) of the Convention could include:

  • leave for victims of domestic violence;
  • flexible work arrangements and protection for victims of domestic violence;
  • temporary protection against dismissal for victims of domestic violence, as appropriate, except on grounds unrelated to domestic violence and its consequences;
  • the inclusion of domestic violence in workplace risk assessments;
  • a referral system to public mitigation measures for domestic violence, where they exist;
  • awareness-raising about the effects of domestic violence.

European Union policy

In the European Union employers are obliged to carry out workplace health and safety risk assessments to determine preventive measures to make work safer and healthier. This obligation arises from European Framework directive on the safety and health of workers at work[20], which is implemented in national legislation by each Member State of the EU. It applies to all work-related hazards and risks, including third-party violence and work-related stress. This tool of risk assessment could be applied to domestic violence as well, as proposed in ILO Recommendation 205. European Directive 2006/54/EC[21] covers the equal treatment of women and men regarding employment and occupation.

In 2007 a European Autonomous Framework Agreement on Violence and Harassment at Work was agreed between the European social partners[22][23]. The Agreement includes a definition of violence and harassment, including sexual harassment, and sets out measures to prevent, manage and eliminate violence at work. While it does not mention domestic violence explicitly, it could provide the basis for sector agreements at the EU-level and agreements at the national level.

The European Union has co-funded various projects on domestic violence in the workplace through it’s Daphne III programme[24], resulting in guidelines, training and workplace policies.

European Member States that ratify ILO Convention 190 will be undertaking to ‘recognize the effects of domestic violence and, so far as is reasonably practicable, mitigate its impact in the world of work’, if they do not already do so. The European Commission is encouraging EU Member States to ratify the convention[25]. However, there first needs to be a Council Decision in place allowing Member States to ratify the convention at national-level, as it touches on EU competences.

Features of agreements and workplace policies on domestic violence at work in Europe

According to a review by the ETUC[26], typical features of agreements and workplace policies on domestic violence at work in EU countries are:

  • Confidentiality maintained

Information provision about domestic violence at work

  • Paid flexible leave
  • Protection from dismissal
  • Safety and security in the workplace - Initiatives to improve the safety and security for victims can include specific safety planning to prevent physical assault, harassment or stalking at the workplace, as well as measures to tackle threatening or harassing phone calls and emails from abusive partners or ex-partners. Measures could include supporting a victim to carry out a safety plan, informing reception staff and a woman’s colleagues to ensure their safety, providing a secure entry system and car-parking place, and giving the worker the option of changing their work location, working hours or shift patterns on a temporary or permanent basis. These measures can also provide support and safety for co-workers who may also be affected in the workplace.
  • Support for this or workers by designated staff
  • Disciplinary procedures in dealing with perpetrators
  • Training and awareness raising for the workforce
  • Training for trade union representatives and line managers
  • Provide information about and referral to specialist services
  • Financial support

Safety measures an employer can provide suggested by PSHSA (Canada)

The Canadian Public Services Health and Safety Association (PSHSA)[27] has published a guide on domestic violence and work. Among the safety measures suggests in the guide that an employer could provide are:

  • a policy on domestic violence
  • education materials about help available to victims and abusers, displayed in accessible areas; lists of internal and community resources and a list of external support services for victims, abusers, co-workers and witnesses
  • policies about paid time off, extended leaves of absence and workplace relocation for victims of domestic violence, as well as accountability measures for abusers in the organization
  • procedures for handling an incident/potential incident and dealing with the perpetrator, including clear and simple steps to be taken if domestic violence enters the workplace by managers, security personnel, co-workers etc.. Simple elements could include: when police are to be called and when doors should be locked; pre-programming telephones with emergency contact numbers, installing desk or wall panic buttons, providing personal alarms and creating code words or phrases to indicate a potential situation
  • a reporting, investigation and follow-up procedure
  • disclosing information on a “need to know” basis to protect confidentiality while ensuring worker safety
  • assistance in developing a personal support and workplace safety plan - which could include flexible work hours or workload, security escorts to vehicles, extended leave periods, personal alarms, cell phone with direct dial to 911, etc.
  • training and education about domestic violence
  • training for staff on measures procedures for the prevention of workplace violence including domestic violence. Training should encompass identification of domestic violence, communication and de-escalation techniques.

These measures on domestic violence are comparable and compatible with recommended measures to prevent third-party violence from clients and other members of the public in the course of work.

Covid-19: domestic abuse and working from home

For victims of domestic abuse, being required to work from home may be particularly difficult and they may require support from their employer. Work can be a refuge from an abuser and is often a victim’s only safe place. Advice produced for employers on supporting employees includes:

  • Keeping in touch with workers who are or may be suffering abuse and asking colleagues to do the same. This can be through face-to-face calls, or through emails or texts – which are more private. This includes keeping in touch with those who are temporarily not working, because the business is not currently operating because of Covid-19;
  • Pointing workers in the direction of information and support services;
  • Some countries provide support to perpetrators: Bringing these services to the attention of perpetrators;
  • Larger employers could provide flexibility about people’s pay and contract arrangements or legal advice, if they have a legal department;
  • Having safety and wellbeing as a regular agenda item on management and human resources meetings.

Sources of information

European Institute for Gender Equality (EIGE) library:

European Institute for Gender Equality (EIGE) webpages on gender-based violence

Sources of information for employers on Covid-19, domestic abuse and working from home include:


  1. Council of Europe, 2011, Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence against Women and Domestic Violence. Council of Europe Treaty Series No 210.
  2. European Institute for Gender Equality (EIGE) Domestic violence
  3. ETUC, 2017, Safe at Home, Safe at Work,
  4. UK Office for National Statistics, 2019, Homicide in England and Wales: year ending March 2018.
  5. EU-OSHA, 2011, New risks and trends in the safety and health of women at work, p179.
  6. EU-OSHA, 2003, Gender issues in safety and health at work - A review, pp 65-66
  7. Public Services Health and Safety Association (PSHSA), 2010, Addressing Domestic Violence in the Workplace: A Handbook, 2010,
  8. ETUC op. cit.
  9. Pillinger, J., Schmidt, V., Wintour, N., 2016, ILO Negotiating for gender equality, Labour Relations and Collective Bargaining Issue Brief no.4, ILO, Geneva
  10. Government of Ontario, 2009, Occupational Health and Safety Amendment Act (Violence and Harassment in the Workplace),  S.O. 2009, c. 23 - Bill 168 article 32.0.4
  11. Pillinger, J., Schmidt, V., Wintour, N., 2016 op. cit.
  12. ETUC op. cit.
  13. ETUC op. cit.
  14. European Institute for Gender Equality (EIGE)  What is a Gender Equality Plan (GEP)
  15. ETUC op. cit.
  16. International Labour Conference, Convention 190 Concerning the elimination of violence and harassment in the world of work, adopted by the Conference at its one hundred and eighth session, Geneva, 21 June 2019
  17. ILO, Ratifications of C190 - Violence and Harassment Convention, 2019 (No. 190)
  18. European Institute for Gender Equality (EIGE) (2014) Estimating the Costs of Gender-Based Violence in the European Union: Report. Luxembourg, Publications Office of the European Union. Available at:
  19. International Labour Conference, Recommendation 206 Concerning the elimination of violence and harassment in the world of work, adopted by the conference at its one hundred and eighth session, Geneva, 21 June 2019
  20. EU-OSHA The OSH Framework Directive
  21. EU-OSHA, Directive 2006/54/EC - equal opportunities
  22. EU-OSHA, Framework agreement on harassment and violence at work
  23. ETUC, Framework agreement on harassment and violence at work
  24. European Commission, Daphne III Funding Programme
  25. The EU Commission encourages EU Member States to ratify the International Convention on the Elimination of Violence and Harassment in the World of Work, 22 January 2020)
  26. ETUC op. cit.
  27. Public Services Health and Safety Association (PSHSA), 2010, Addressing Domestic Violence in the Workplace: A Handbook, 2010,