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Several federal and provincial laws address the various types of family violence that employees may be experiencing. Following is a brief overview of the legal remedies available. Employers can help educate their workers and connect family violence victims to resources and services that can answer some of their basic legal questions.
 
Remember: employees who need specific advice about their individual circumstances should consult a lawyer.

Family Violence is Against the Law

Domestic violence is taken very seriously by the justice system in Manitoba.  The Criminal Code of Canada sets out the various criminal offences that may apply to family violence.  In addition to the most serious crimes of murder, attempted murder and manslaughter, the following offences may also apply in family violence cases:
 
  • assault
  • sexual assault
  • criminal harassment
  • uttering threats
  • intimidation
  • failing to provide the necessities of life
  • abduction
 
The Criminal Code also lists the various sentences that an abuser may be subjected to as a result of criminal court proceedings. Sentences may include conditions that prohibit an abuser from communicating with or having contact with a victim.
 
For a more detailed description of the criminal legal process, visit the Manitoba Justice website at www.gov.mb.ca/justice/prosecutions/stepbystep.html.
 
Outside the realm of criminal law, various other types of protective orders exist under civil and family law. In Manitoba, The Domestic Violence and Stalking Act allows victims of family violence and stalking to use the civil courts to address their particular circumstances. Court orders prohibiting or restricting contact and communication between spouses or common-law partners can also be issued in family law cases where abuse may be an issue.
 
While generic terms such as “restraining orders” or “no-contact orders” are often used by the public, no actual orders exist in Manitoba under those names. In cases of family violence, orders commonly in place include: protection orders, prevention orders, peace bonds, probation orders and recognizance orders. Each order provides a different kind of protection over a different period of time. 
 
Manitoba Justice publishes fact sheets in plain language explaining the orders commonly available to victims of domestic violence. These are available online at www.gov.mb.ca/justice/victims/domestic/protect.html; or by contacting:
 
Manitoba Justice, Victim Services
Phone: 204-945-6851 in Winnipeg; toll free 1-866-484-2846
 
In addition to the information on the types of orders available, Victim Services also publishes fact sheets on other important topics such as protection planning for people in abusive relationships and breaking the cycle of violence (available in many languages). These are available online at www.gov.mb.ca/justice/victims/domestic/protect.html; or by contacting Victim Services at the phone number above. Copies of the various fact sheets have also been included in this toolkit as handouts employers can make available to their employees.
 

Employer’s Role When there are Court Orders

Employees may tell their employers when court orders have been issued to protect them. This is most likely to happen when the order prohibits the abuser from directly or indirectly communicating with or contacting the worker. These orders can also state that the abuser must keep a certain distance from the victim’s workplace.  Employers must be prepared to enforce these orders if the abuser fails to abide by the conditions specified.

By calling police and advising them an abuser breached a court order to stay away from the workplace, an employer can intervene early and prevent violence against the victim and other employees. Balancing the responsibility of calling police against that of maintaining the privacy of an employee can be challenging. Employers may want to notify and train people, such as security personnel, reception area workers and people who work close to the victim, about the need for vigilance and expectations around confidentiality. Setting policies in advance and helping victimized employees make workplace safety plans can prevent problems and ensure the safety of everyone in the workplace.

 
Note: a particularly difficult and dangerous time for employees experiencing family violence is during separation, divorce and child custody hearings.
 

Confidentiality in Child Abuse Cases

All adults who have any information that a child is or might be abused must report it to child welfare authorities or the police.  If an employee tells an employer that a child is being abused, the employer must tell the employee about this law.  If an employer finds out from an employee that a child is being abused, the employer must report it.  In Manitoba, reports can be made to local police or to the Child and Family Services province-wide intake and emergency after-hours line at 1-866-345-9241.
 

Sending a Consistent Message

As challenging as it can be for employers to deal with the issue of invasion of privacy, if you suspect abuse, take a proactive approach because it can end the silence around the cycle of violence.  Employers are learning that they can help prevent violence and they’re most successful in this when everyone assumes responsibility for employee safety.