Listen / Guide / Support - Scenarios and What to Say

What to Say

Talking to your employees or co-worker about domestic violence can be uncomfortable and difficult to approach. It’s not easy bringing up personal issues of this nature so here are some recommendations on how to approach the victim and situation.

If you feel you need more support on this as the information contained below are only suggestions and recommendations, please contact one of the community resources to assist on approaching the topic.

1. When to bring up domestic violence?

Bring up domestic violence only in a safe and private environment.

2. You may start a conversation with statements such as...

"I’m concerned about you. "
"You’re such a good employee, but you seem distracted and upset recently.  "
Sometimes when a person’s performance changes at work, it could mean they are experiencing conflict at home. Could this be happening to you? 

3. If the victim discloses abuse, it’s important to show that you care. Things you could say when a co-worker discloses abuse include the following...

“I believe you”

“It’s not your fault”

“I support you”

“I care about you”


4. Always remain non-judgemental when you ask questions, be clear, and be sensitive. You could ask...

"What can we change here to help you feel and be safer at work?"
"Has your partner ever threatened to come to work?"
"Can I give you information about resources in the community that can support you?"

5. If a victim discloses domestic violence, keep it confidential, however, if it is a threat to the workplace, share the information on a need-to-know basis.

Listen to the employee and provide her/him with guidance and support. 
Tell the employee that help is available if she/he chooses to utilize it (link to community resources). 
Believe the employee. Don’t judge them. 
Invite the employee to participate in making a safety plan. 

6. When talking to your employee, do NOT make statements like these as you may make the victim feel like you don’t believe them or are blaming them.

This is so hard to believe!
Things may get better with time.
I can’t believe you put up with this!
Your partner just doesn’t seem like that kind of person.
If you’re still with him/her, it must not be that bad.
You can’t stay in this situation.
You have to leave!

7. Avoid giving personal advice as it may actually be unsafe since...

You will only know parts of the story your employee feels comfortable sharing. A common piece of advice given to victims is to leave their partner, but telling them to leave a relationship before they are ready and have safety measures in place can be dangerous.

Domestic violence involves the perpetrator taking control away from the victim so it is important not to engage in the same behaviour, even when the intention is to help. Rather than giving advice, always listen, guide and support by providing information, and contact details for community resources and trained professionals.


8. Helping someone can be difficult and frustrating...

Victims may not explore the options you suggest, which could cause you to become frustrated. Always remember that domestic violence involves the perpetrator controlling the victim and taking away her/his power. It can be difficult for someone suffering abuse to leave the relationship.

Anti-violence services in the community can assist you with managing your frustration and this issue and with supporting your employee. Check out the list of community supports in your area.


When employers become aware of a domestic violence situation, they must be alert to any legal obligations they might have. There are things employers can do outside of any legal requirements to support employees and keep workers and the workplace safe.

Here are a couple of scenarios to provide examples of how a workplace might respond to a domestic violence situation. These are sample situations and responses only as each workplace, employee, and domestic violence experience is different and responses should reflect specific situations (e.g., legal obligations, other hazards, workplace culture, policies and procedures, location, availability of resources such as office security).

Scenario 1: An immediate threat to workplace safety

Julie, a receptionist for a law firm, has been with her firm for less than a year. Lately her co-workers say she seems agitated when she arrives for work and again before she heads home. A quiet person, Julie keeps to herself. Recently, she has been calling in sick a lot and when she is at work her partner calls often. The situation is beginning to concern and annoy Julie’s boss, Bob. After a call from her partner this morning, Julie came to Bob and said her partner just threatened her, he was coming to the office with a gun. Bob immediately moved to protect the workplace and all staff.

  1. Knowing there is an immediate threat, Bob calls the police and outlines the situation.
  2. Bob tells reception and security what is happening and gives them a physical description of Julie’s partner and tells security to lock down the office until the police arrive.
  3. Bob then lets all staff know of the threat, and because anyone might come into contact with Julie’s partner he provides a description.
  4. Bob makes sure to speak with police and anti violence community workers about the incident.
    Together they can complete a risk assessment allowing the firm to update the current policy, if required.
  5. Bob and Julie can work on a safety plan and Bob provides options including, working off site or a new location on site, creating specific work hours and maintaining contact when Julie will be late, screening calls, and providing an escort to and from the parking lot.
  6. Because all staff are affected by the threat, Bob checks to ensure they feel safe in the workplace and offers access to supports if needed.

Scenario 2: No immediate threat to workplace safety

Laura, an office worker for 10 years was married about a year ago. Over the past six months, Laura’s colleagues noticed she has lost self-esteem and has trouble concentrating. Laura confided to her boss, Sandeep, that her husband has been verbally and emotionally abusive. He calls her names, embarrasses her in public, and she feels nothing she does is ever good enough. He also threatened to hit her, but she doesn’t think it will happen. Laura makes excuses for him saying he is under a lot of stress lately. She is clearly upset.

Sandeep recognizes the situation as domestic violence that could turn into physical violence. With no immediate threat to the workplace and to support Laura and to ensure workplace safety Sandeep:

  1. Doesn’t feel it’s necessary to phone 911 now.
  2. Listens to Laura, remaining non-judgmental, offering options to help her make her own decisions and asks what she would find most helpful and supportive at this time.
  3. Prints the company’s domestic violence policy for Laura and offers a list of resources and services available in the community.
  4. Encourages Laura to use counselling services, available for her and her husband, through the company’s extended medical plan (if available).
  5. Sits down with Laura to establish a personal safety plan to improve her safety at work.
  6. Encourages Laura to to make a non-work personal safety plan.
  7. Offers flexible hours so Laura can attend appointments and counselling, if necessary.
  8. Asks Laura for an emergency contact number, other than her husband’s, in case she is unexpectedly absent or late for work.
  9. Asks Laura if there is anything else she needs to feel safe and tells her if she thinks of anything else in the future, she should share it immediately and assures her the situation will remain confidential unless it becomes necessary to notify other staff for safety reasons
  10. Works with the local police to update the company’s workplace safety plan and reviews it with staff at their next safety meeting.