March 9, 2018

Domestic violence in the workplace: an employer’s guide

Domestic violence impacts on the workplace as well as the home. Read our guide to how employers can help the victims of domestic violence, as well as their bottom line.

The effects of domestic violence don’t start and end at home – they can impact on the workplace too. Aside from the trauma experienced by an employee being faced by a violent domestic situation, a recent Commonwealth Government report estimated that domestic violence was costing Australia’s employers more than $1.5 billion a year in turnover, absenteeism, and lower productivity.

On the back of last week’s International Women’s Day, we thought it timely to explore this issue in more detail and to discuss what employers should be doing to help workers suffering the devastating effects of domestic violence.

The importance of work to domestic violence sufferers

The Commonwealth Government’s Parliamentary Committee on Domestic Violence in Australia found that steady employment played a major role in helping the victims of domestic violence; most obviously because it could provide both financial security and economic independence but also because of the support network offered by a workplace and the self esteem derived from performing a valued role.

The Committee’s report also highlighted the difficulties faced by many victims of domestic violence who found it hard to hold down a job in the first place because they generally needed to take time off work, either directly due to illness or injury, or as a result of needing to attend court or other appointments. Even just getting to work on time can be extremely difficult for some workers who are experiencing violence in the home.

This is precisely where the leadership and policies of an organization can make a real difference.

What can workplaces do to support employees experiencing domestic and family violence?

There is a range of actions a workplace can take to ensure that they are providing adequate support for victims and survivors of domestic or family violence.

The role of leaders

An important first step is for workplaces to begin a conversation about domestic and family violence – one where employers send a clear message to their employees that:

  • domestic and family violence is an issue that affects the workplace
  • those experiencing it are not alone
  • they should feel confident that disclosing a violent situation will not result in adverse consequences for them or their employment, and that
  • bystanders should stand up against violence in the workplace.

Establish clear policies and procedures

  • Develop a policy about supporting victims and survivors of domestic and family violence.
  • Develop policies for safe workplaces, free from harassment and bullying, which also deal with employees who perpetrate violence in the workplace.
  • Ensure these policies and procedures are clearly articulated to staff and that employees are encouraged to make use of them.

Make provision for leave or flexible work arrangements

Consider implementing flexible work arrangements and dedicated paid leave for women experiencing domestic and family violence. As of 2013, over one million Australian workers are able to avail themselves of leave and other protections made available through domestic and family violence clauses in their employment agreements or award conditions.

It’s important also to ensure managers and those responsible for policy implementation and safety planning receive adequate training and support.

Implement awareness-raising and education programs

  • Ensure all staff has an understanding of the impacts of domestic and family violence on individuals and in the workplace.
  • Ensure staff receive training on how to recognize signs that a colleague may be experiencing domestic and family violence.

Ensure adequate support is provided for affected employees

  • Discuss the short and long term needs and requirements of the affected employee.
  • If required, develop a safety plan.
  • Ensure ongoing communication and regularly check in with the affected employee.
  • Respect privacy and confidentiality.
  • Ensure employees are aware of appropriate support services. For example, some Employee Assistance Programs have counsellors trained in domestic and family violence counselling.

Provide referrals and external support

Ensure those staff required to support other staff (eg. managers) are aware of the appropriate support and referral pathways for women who experience violence and men who perpetrate violence, as well as support available for themselves.

With the extraordinarily high instances of domestic violence in our community, it would be foolish to think your workplace is not affected. Let us know if we can assist with implementing any of these suggestions to ensure your workplace is supportive and safe.

say hi to our author

Merilyn founded Catalina Consultants in 2012 on the belief that all organisations, regardless of size, should have access to top quality bespoke HR services. She enjoys working closely with her clients and believes that the best results are built on relationships of rapport, trust and authenticity. Growing up, Merilyn had her sight set on stardom and dreamed of becoming an actor. She also sang and played the piano, but ended up studying accounting and HR. Whilst she hasn’t won her Grammy just yet, she still loves a good karaoke night. Merilyn loves to travel with her family, with South Africa being one of her most memorable destinations.

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