Domestic and Family Violence: A Workplace Issue

Domestic and Family Violence – A Workplace Issue

As news headlines sound the alarm on the prevalence of domestic and family violence in Australia, it’s important for business to consider how they can support the safety and wellbeing of affected employees in the workplace, and the need to implement policies to address the issue.

The reality is that when employees are affected by domestic violence in their personal life it also impacts their professional life. The Australian Bureau of Statistics estimates that 55- 70 per cent of women who have experienced domestic violence, or who are currently experiencing it, are in the workforce.

The Australian figures are disturbing with one woman murdered each week by a violent partner and one in four Australian women experiencing violence from a partner. While men can also be victims of abuse, the majority of violent behaviour is committed by men against women.

Domestic and family violence isn’t something organisations can afford to ignore. The impacts have a flow-on effect to the workplace with significant costs incurred through absenteeism, staff turnover as well as decreased performance and productivity.

KPMG estimates that by 2021-22 domestic violence will cost the Australian economy $9.9 billion per year, including $609 million in production-related costs – such as absenteeism or turnover.

Currently in Australia employees, including part-time and casual employees, are entitled to five days unpaid family and domestic violence leave each year.

Software giant, SAP, has gone a step further by announcing a staff-led policy initiative for Australian and New Zealand employees, which includes support and awareness measures to assist victims and to create awareness around the issue of domestic violence.

The company’s new policy includes a suite of supportive strategies such as flexible work arrangements, access to free counselling, training for managers and employees, and the provision of ten days paid leave.

Debbie Rigger, Head of Human Resources, SAP Australia and New Zealand said the additional leave would allow staff the time to seek medical attention, counselling, legal advice, support or new accommodation in a time of need.

“Family and domestic violence comes in many forms – from violence to coercive control – and can impact people from all backgrounds. We hope this creates an environment where staff feel supported to speak up and seek help.”

Other employees offering paid domestic violence leave – to help employees meet legal, medical, counselling other commitments – include Telstra, Westpac, KPMG, Virgin Australia, as well as some public sector organisations.

Benefits of addressing domestic violence in the workplace

The Gendered Violence Research Network at The University of NSW has identified multiple benefits for employers who proactively and effectively address the effects of domestic, family and sexual violence on the organisation.

These include:

  • Reduced costs and increased savings
  • Helps to fulfil employers’ duty of care
  • It improves staff health, safety and wellbeing
  • Economic independence is key to leaving an abusive relationship
  • It demonstrates corporate social responsibility
  • It may help to position an organisation as an employer of choice

Employers can reduce costs and increase savings by providing supports to employees who are victims so that they can maintain their employment and improve their long-term productivity, safeguarding institutional knowledge and offsetting potential termination, recruitment and retraining expenses.

 Support strategies for the workplace

Workplace policies can make a difference to the safety and wellbeing of people experiencing domestic violence. People can be affected as a victim and as a supportive family member or colleague.

A program’s success requires leadership to ensure integrated support within the company’s culture and business practices. With effective and supportive policies and procedures developed in consultation with employees, communicated clearly and reviewed regularly.

Supportive policies should include:

Education and awareness:

  • All employees should have an awareness of the nature, features and dynamics of domestic and family violence.
  • Awareness training should include the organisation’s policies, procedures and the impacts of domestic and family violence on individuals and on the workplace and how to recognise signs that a colleague may be affected.
  • Ensure managers and those responsible for policy implementation and safety planning receive adequate training and support – including privacy and confidentiality requirements.
  • Policies and procedures can be clearly articulated to employees through activities such as training, information sessions, in Health and Safety briefings, posters and supporting awareness days such as White Ribbon Day, 22 November 2020.

Leave and flexible work arrangements:

  • Support staff by offering special leave and flexible work arrangements. These arrangements could include changes to hours of work, patterns of work such as split shifts or job sharing, and offering alternate work locations.
  • Providing paid family violence leave is a fundamental aspect of workplace support for victims. According to the Diversity Council of Australia, “Economic security is the single most important factor in whether a victim of domestic violence is able to withdraw from a dangerous situation.”

Provide referrals and external support:

  • Promote awareness of assistance such as counselling services provided by an Employee Assistance Program and key contact staff to assist employees with these issues.
  • Ensure staff members who are supporting affected employees are aware of the appropriate support and referral pathways for women who experience violence such as organisations providing information on crisis care facilities and refuges, information on domestic violence orders and court support.
  • Maintain ongoing communication and regularly check in with the affected employee.

Safety strategies:

  • A Workplace Health and Safety Policy should include a process for conducting a domestic violence risk assessment.
  • If required, a safety plan should be developed with the staff member and other relevant personnel. This could include changing the employee’s work location, their phone contact, email and putting in place phone screening procedures. It could also include a security or a staff member to accompany the employee to and from transportation.

References and further reading

Diversity Council of Australia: Frequently asked questions about domestic violence

Australian Human Rights Commission: Domestic and Family Violence a workplace issue and discrimination issue