A Workplace Response to Domestic Violence

The  impact of Domestic and Family on the workplace  

Thanks to the extensive and historical work of women’s rights activists and organisations, the pressing social issue of domestic and family violence (DFV) has seen a recent groundswell of attention from policy makers as well as the media. But while Australia seems to be growing more aware of the unacceptable incidences of DFV in our nation, we have been slower to recognise its long term fallout; particularly on women in the workplace.

Due to the nature of intimate partner violence, leaving the house each day for work does not always offer an escape; instead often leading to continued abuse. According to the 2011 National Domestic Violence and Workplace Survey, it was revealed that 19% of those who had been exposed to FDV in the past 12 months had experienced a continuation of violence against them in their workplace; often through phone calls, emails and text messages.

While emotional and physical violence can severely compromise women’s workplace participation, their employers can also play a fundamental role in their empowerment; not only by raising awareness of DFV but also in providing employees with the necessary financial (and other) support needed to break the cycle of violence.

It has also been suggested (as outlined in the Special Taskforce on Domestic and Family Violence in Queensland) that Queensland employers commit to increasing access to perpetrator intervention programs, as well as ensuring rigorous quality assurance and accredited training for those delivering the initiatives.

While the main costs  are primarily experienced by the victim themselves, there are also significant economic costs to workplaces – a direct result of decreased productivity, high staff turnover and increased absenteeism. In Queensland alone, the latter costs our State an estimated $14.2 million each year (according to an Access Economics study, cited in Not Now Not Ever Report), and further estimations predict that  by the year 2021, domestic and family violence will cost Australian businesses a staggering $609 million per year (according to KPMG Australia).

Taking into consideration that  55% – 70% of working females (800,000 employees) are estimated to have experienced – or are at risk of experiencing –  DFV within their lifetime, there is a strong case for creating organisational competence around our understanding of, and response to, family and domestic violence. Furthermore, our awareness of these issues also creates a compelling argument for risk management approaches in the area of employee safety and well being.

Given the complex nature of domestic violence, it is important for employers to understand that co-workers and managers of both victims and perpetrators can also be significantly affected by the flow on effects of DFV in the workplace. Understanding how to provide support to victims, knowing how to respond to difficult situations (such as ‘invitations’ to take sides), and sensitively identifying performance based issues are all examples of DFV related stressors that can flow on to colleagues.

Current research from the University of NSW has found that the presence of workplace entitlements is one of the most effective methods for assisting employees to seek support; allowing workplaces to generate awareness whilst also maximising safety and productivity.

These suggestions, along with access to flexible working arrangements and the implementation of effective policies and entitlements to leave, are increasingly being recognised as vital mechanisms for supporting victims. One business that has received widespread praise for adopting such strategies is Telstra, who in early 2015, introduced a policy to provide employees with 10 days of additional paid leave for DFV related matters.

Workplaces can also proactively support their staff by ensuring that their privacy is respected. In doing so, victims may feel more able to tend to DFV related necessities, such as moving into a safer home environment, or attending court hearings and legal / counselling appointments.

Many companies and organisations are already on board with addressing DFV in the workplace, some of which include Australia’s CEO Challenge, the Domestic Violence Clearinghouse (Safe at Home Safe at Work projectS), White Ribbon and Working Women QLD (WWQ).

WWQ’s Director Kerriann Dear believes that a step by step approach in the workplace is often easy to adopt, and says that it can simply start with a conversation about how domestic violence can impact on the workplace:

“Employers can support their employees, by helping them to recognise how domestic violence might look in the workplace, and provide referral information to support services as well as making a statement that the workplace will support those who experience DFV,” she said.  “It is our experience that women will not come forward and ask for support if they perceive their employment may be jeopardised, or if they feel that they will be victim blamed. However, when workplaces are open and supportive, victims can find the process a little easier.”

Operating for more than 20 years, WWQ provides free and confidential advice to women on all aspects of employment, assisting female workers to navigate support from their workplaces in order to break the cycle of domestic violence in their lives. As part of the group of National Working Women’s Centres (NWWC), WWQ also have a long history of raising domestic and family violence as a workplace issue; collaborating over the years with the Domestic Violence Clearinghouse, the FDV service sector and various unions.

WWQ can deliver tailored workshops to workplaces wishing to undertake training and policy development for FDV and is happy to answer any questions employees may have about approaching their employers.