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Domestic violence and its impact on the world of work

Última editado: June 05, 2020

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Domestic violence (sometimes referred to as intimate partner violence, family violence or domestic abuse) includes physical, sexual, psychological and economic violence, as well as coercive control, carried out by an intimate partner. This can include, for example, control over women’s social interactions and autonomy, control of children and parenting, verbal, emotional, economic control, and threats of abuse and violence.  All of these can have devastating psychological consequences, affecting a woman’s confidence, her ability to leave a violent relationship and to sustain meaningful employment.[1] Chart 1 shows eight interlinked forms of power and control of women in relation to domestic violence and its effects on the world of work.

The impact of domestic violence has become an important workplace issue, recognizing how power and control interconnect work and private life (Pillinger, Schmidt and Wintour, 2016). For example, economic violence has a direct impact on women’s ability to work, such as preventing women from having sufficient money for bus fares to get to work or to buy clothing suitable for work, and sometimes violent partners break women’s work tools or physically remove women from their workplaces (Trades Union Congress, 2015). Research indicates that women who experience domestic violence are employed in higher numbers in casual and part-time work, and their earnings are up to 60 per cent lower, compared to women who do not experience such violence (UN Women, 2016b; Vyas, 2013).

Domestic violence affects women’s full and active participation in the labour market, as many women experiencing domestic violence end up leaving their jobs. It can also affect the safety of victims and of others in the workplace, including co-workers, employers, patients or customers. Preventing this from happening and supporting victims of domestic violence at work can save women’s lives.  

Data suggests that significant numbers of women workers experience domestic violence and that it has a profoundly negative impact on their safety and capacity to work and to stay in their jobs:

  • As many as 38 per cent of all murders of women are committed by male intimate partners, some of which are known to have been committed in the workplace.[1]
  • A United States study found that 44 per cent of respondents had experienced the effects of domestic violence in their workplace; 21 per cent of men and women surveyed identified as victims of intimate partner violence; and 64 per cent of victims of domestic violence expressed their ability to work had been affected, including 21 per cent who listed job loss as the reason their productivity decreased (Corporate Alliance to End Partner Violence, 2005).
  • Surveys carried out in Australia, Belgium, Canada, Mongolia, New Zealand, the Philippines, Taiwan, Turkey and the United Kingdom of workers suggest that, on average, one-third of workers, principally women, experience domestic violence at some point in their lives; around half of victims reported feeling that their job performance was negatively affected, and three out of four had a hard time concentrating while at work (DV@Worknet, 2011-2017).
  • In Canada, one third of workers (in a survey of 8,429 respondents) had experienced domestic violence and, for over half of them, violence followed them to work. Among those victimized, 81 per cent said that it negatively impacted their work performance. Women, gender diverse and Aboriginal people, people with disabilities and those reporting a sexual orientation other than heterosexual, reported higher levels of domestic violence (Wathen, MacGregor, MacQuarrie and the Canadian Labour Congress, 2014).
  • In a study in selected districts of Sri Lanka, 16 per cent of surveyed women who experienced intimate partner violence reported having to take days off work, and 32 per cent reported having had to seek medical attention for injuries (de Mel et al, 2013).

Perpetrators of domestic violence can also be employees who may also bring the problem into the workplace. The victim and the perpetrator may work in the same workplace, or the workplace may be the only place where an ex-partner knows where to find a victim. When perpetrators use work-related resources to abuse a victim, this not only places the victim and co-workers at risk, but it also has related costs for employers, arising from lost productivity and lost days from work:

  • A study of 152 domestic violence perpetrators in the state of Maine, United States, found that 78 per cent used workplace resources at least once to express remorse or anger, check up on, pressure or threaten their victim (Runge, 2018).
    • A survey of 443 heterosexual male domestic violence offenders in Canada found that one-third of them had been in contact with their (ex)partner during work hours to engage in emotional abuse and/or in monitoring of them (Scott, Lim, Kelly, Holmes, MacQuarrie, Wathen and MacGregor, 2017). The men reported that they regularly engaged in texting and fighting with their (ex)partners and that they were distracted by thinking about their whereabouts. One-fifth of the men indicated that someone at work knew about their behaviours, and nearly half said that domestic violence issues often negatively affected their work performance.

The workplace is an important entry point for addressing the social norms and behaviours that underpin domestic violence and the impact that it has on the woman worker and her workplace. This requires acknowledging the right of women to work independently and to have an independent income, which can also provide a pathway to leaving a violent relationship. Early intervention is essential if a woman is to have access to support and specialized services in the community, to enable her to stay at her job and to live independently.

[1] For example, in the US between 2003 and 2008 just over one-third of homicides in the workplace were carried out by intimate partners. Over half of workplace homicides perpetrated by intimate partners occurred in parking lots and public buildings. See Triesman, H.M. et al. (2012) Workplace Homicides Among US Women: The Role of Intimate Partner Violence. Annals of epidemiology, 22(4):277-84.

[1] See for instance, the Duluth Domestic Intervention Program (National Centre for Domestic and Sexual Violence) which shows that power and control are connected to and encompass coercion and threats, emotional abuse, isolation of victims, denial and blaming the victim, controlling and using her children and economic abuse. For further information see: