Civility & Domestic Violence

Civility & Domestic Violence


Civility encompasses numerous behavioural and cultural norms. Civility is the foundation of society and has been a topic of conversation and debate going back as far as Confucius, Plato, and Lincoln.

Civility is inexorably linked to manners, etiquette, respect, rudeness, bullying, and harassment. Civility is defined and demonstrated externally by the ‘culture’ at large: which country you live in, what religion you practice (or don’t), your gender, your ethnicity, and your age.

Civility is also internal and demonstrated daily in your actions with others, including your lens of respectful behaviour, you level of interpersonal power, and your intrinsic motivators.

Over the past couple of decades, civility survey results report most people (60%) believe incivility has risen. Some blame technology, or how busy we are, or how competitive society is, or a loss of values. Alberta’s Occupational Health & Safety (OHS) Act now addresses the effects of incivility. OHS  requires employers to provide a psychologically safe work environment – not just a physically safe environment.

Domestic Violence

Domestic violence rises during times of workplace stress and change. Alberta has been experiencing difficult economic times for several years and with the recent announcement of the delayed pipeline project, the financial strain isn’t likely to drop any time soon. In February 2017, Global News reported that Alberta had the 3rd highest rate of intimate partner abuse. The link between financial strain and domestic violence is known to those working with survivors – it may not be as well known to the general public and many corporate supervisors and leaders.

Occupational Health & Safety

Under Alberta’s OHS supervisors must be competent, protect the health and safety of workers, advise workers of all health and safety hazards, report all health & safety concerns to the Employer and prevent violence and harassment.

The OHS definition of harassment and violence includes physical and psychological harm, including sexual and domestic violence.

As I read the definition that places a level of responsibility for addressing domestic violence on supervisors I immediately wondered how this aspect of OHS was going to work in corporations across the province.

The Connection

What is the connection between domestic violence and incivility at work? Civility is the positive foundation of a relationship. A relationship built on trust, respect, consistency, and understanding. A civil relationship allows people to open up to each other in a safe space. Domestic violence is a relationship devoid of these characteristics – an extreme version of incivility.

What Can We Do?

In a culture with incivility on the rise, a concentrated approach to developing and maintaining a civil workplace provides training, guidelines, and tools to all employees.

Many leaders are unsure how to have tough talks regarding performance, dress, hygiene, and inappropriate language (all topics HR professionals handle regularly) and now they have a legal responsibility to address an extremely difficult and emotional issue: domestic violence.  We need to provide the tools to help each other.   It is imperative that corporations train their leaders in recognizing the signs of domestic violence – and what to do next.

Does that mean leaders are now domestic violence counsellors? Of course not though it does mean you have the tools to support your employee in obtaining professional support and accessing resources through a company EAP or shelter.

Will a corporate civility program stop domestic violence? Of course not, however, if employees can work in a safe, respectful environment where they are seen and treated as an equal they may be willing to seek out help. So you, as the leader, will be able to provide that help.

With OHS legislation in force – do you know how to approach an employee that may be the victim of domestic violence?

Please see below for more information on domestic violence.

Employer information for addressing domestic violence

Addressing domestic violence

Domestic Violence Leave

Alberta OHS Update

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