Supporting Domestic Violence Victims in the Workplace
Earlier this year it was widely reported that telecommunications giant Telstra would offer an additional ten days of paid domestic violence leave per year to all 34,000 employees. The domestic violence leave is additional to the other leave arrangements already available to employees.
Telstra’s General Manager of Diversity and Industries, Troy Roderick, told Pro Bono Australia News that the new entitlement for staff had been born out of the company’s Family Violence Support Policy, which was launched in November 2014.
“It’s really about ensuring that people who are experiencing family or domestic violence have the support they need when that’s happening in their lives,” Mr Roderick said.
Mr Roderick said that the leave was available to anyone affected by domestic violence, even if they were not the direct victim, and that they could apply for it retrospectively.
“Domestic and family violence can take a variety of different forms, not just physical violence, but there can be emotional, financial or other kinds of violence that people experience,” he said.
Mr Roderick told Pro Bono Australia he was proud of Telstra and said he expected other large companies to come on board as well.
The new provisions offer up to ten days paid leave to attend counseling sessions, receive legal advice or undertake other activities related to their experience of family and/or domestic violence.
Organisations unable or unwilling to offer leave provisions like Telstra should be aware of the fact that since 2013 employees have the right to ask for flexible work arrangements under the Fair Work Act. Employers are entitled to refuse a request based on reasonable business grounds, such as loss of productivity or expense, but the employee is entitled to an explanation.
It’s very important for employers to be completely clear about their legal obligations when it comes to duty of care and protecting the safety of employees. Taking a positive and proactive approach to offering support and services which go above and beyond the minimums required by law will help your organisation attract and retain staff and will build your reputation as a great place to work.
In addition to offering leave employers can help victims of domestic violence by creating a safe and supportive environment. For some victims the workplace offers a place of respite and an opportunity to take a break from the stress of living in an unsafe home environment.
Employees should be informed and reminded about the range of employer provided services available to them if they face a situation of violence and should be confident about how to access these services.
Education can happen at the induction stage but should be ongoing, with reminder posters in bathrooms and communal areas such as the staff or breakout room. A handbook posted on the intranet and available in hard copy is a great way to amalgamate all the information so employees know exactly where to find support when they need it.
Training and education for managers and employees on domestic violence, how to recognise victims, respond to requests for support and people’s legal rights is also helpful for raising sensitivity and reducing social stigma. For many people the thought of informing an employer they are the victim of domestic violence is a confronting process and for some victims the naming of the crime suddenly makes it more real. Knowing the employer will be receptive and understanding and will respond appropriately will hopefully make this process easier for the employee.
According to the Queensland Centre for Domestic and Community Violence employers can also help employees by:
- Offering reassignment or modified schedules or transfer to a different position or workstation and work telephone number.
- Providing a personal alarm.
- Making adjustments to job structure, workplace facility or work environment in response to actual or threatened domestic violence.
- Offering assistance with an employee safety plan and working with security and/or local law enforcement to develop an emergency response plan.
This Better Workplace Bulletin was first published in June 2015