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A workplace response to domestic violence

Information for managers, employers and co-workers.

Domestic and family violence in the workplace * 

Domestic and family violence (DFV) is when a person intentionally uses violence, threats, force or intimidation to control or manipulate a family member, partner or former partner. DFV occurs regardless of class, age, ethnicity, race, sexuality, religion or disability. It is characterised by an imbalance of power whereby the perpetrator of the violence uses abusive behaviours and tactics to obtain power and control over the victim causing fear. The violence is intentional and systematic and can increase in frequency and severity the longer the relationship goes on, particularly if the victim challenges the perpetrators control.

Domestic violence disproportionately affects women: with one in four Australian female workers in a 2011 survey indicating that they had experienced DFV.**

There is now widespread recognition of the impact of DFV in an employment context and on the benefits of employment for victims of domestic violence as an important means of financial security and independence. Having a job can be a crucial factor enabling victims to leave DFV and relocate to safety.

The experience of domestic violence can severely impact on an employee; affecting their productivity and attendance and raising risks of safety for the employee and others in the workplace. It is important to address these issues while understanding the impact of the violence. Employers may also face situations where perpetrators of DFV are identified in the workplace.

Being aware of potential signs of DFV can assist workplaces to take appropriate measures to prevent it from escalating in your organisation.

In a competitive market environment the cost of not addressing DFV should not be over looked. the effects can have a significant financial impact on business and on the economy with a 2015 study estimating the costs of violence against women in Australia to be $21.7 billion per year.***

By working to mitigate the economic, legal and business productivity risks related to DFV employers also create workplaces that are safter for victims and send a powerful message that responding to DFV is part of corporate and social responsibility.

Develop a proactive response to DFV in the workplace by:

  • Raising awareness about DFV and its impact at work
  • Upholding  legal protections for employees
  • Creating a supportive environment where it is demonstrated that work is a safe place to request support if DFV is occurring
  • Being alert to the possible warning signs of DFV  when it is impacting at work
  • Committing to provide support for staff who experience family and domestic violence 
  • Understanding that DFV may impact on performance and attendance at work and communicating to employees that their job is safe while making reasonable adjustments to support them
  • Implementing paid DFV leave as an entitlement to support time away from work for employees to address DFV issues such as attending court, medical or legal appointments or to seek safer accommodation
  • Assess the risks to your workplace and consider developing a workplace safety plan with specific measures to minimise the risk that employees will be subject to violent or abusive behaviour at work, including protocols for dealing with a crisis situation

    * For more information: Myths and Facts about DFV: http://www.bdvs.org.au/information/myths–facts

    ** Ludo McFerran, Safe at Home, Safe at Work? National Domestic Violence and the Workplace Survey (Centre for Gender Related ViolenceStudiesandMicromexResearch,2011).

    ***Price Waterhouse Coopers (2015) ‘A high price to pay: the economic case for preventing violence against women’, report prepared for Our Watch and the Victorian Health Promotion Foundation (VicHealth)

    Recognise

    Raise awareness in the workplace and be alert to the possible signs and impacts of DFV in the workplace. 

    Respond

    Implement an identified policy response to DFV, train staff and let employees know that the workplace will respond in appropriate and supportive ways to disclosures of DFV and will manage any identified safety risks.

    Refer

    Maintain up to date details of specialist services and support employees to get the services they may require to address the DFV.

    Record and Monitor

    Keep confidential records and aim for continuous improvement in your approach.

    1. Recognise the signs of DFV

    Increasingly workplaces are recognising that personal and real life problems can affect their employee’s  job performance and the business bottom line.  They are prepared  to be proactive in raising awareness about issues such as DFV and naming it as a serious, recognisable and preventable problem and a workplace health and safety issue.  An employee who experiences domestic abuse is less likely to disclose  their situation or approach management directly if they do not feel confident that the workplace will respond with support and understanding. People experiencing DFV can often be socially isolated and shame and fear can make them reluctant to ask for help.  

    Talking  about DFV  can be difficult and emotionally charged for both the person being abused and co-workers or supervisors and needs to be handled with sensitivity. It is important to remember that DFV involves the person using the violence controlling the victim of the violence and taking away their power. It can therefore be hard for the person experiencing the violence to leave the relationship and breaking free or addressing the abuse may take several attempts.

    As with other welfare concerns, early identification that an employee is experiencing difficulties will more likely lead to appropriate help being offered. This in turn could mean that the employee is able to deal with the situation far more effectively; also minimising the impact on the workplace.

    Possible impacts of DFV may include

    • being prevented or delayed from getting to work making the employee persistently late
    • absenteeism without explanation
    • needing time off beyond usual life commitments
    • partner visiting at work in inappropriate ways
    • receiving repeated upsetting phone calls/emails/texts
    • employee staying at work beyond what is reasonable
    • changes in quality of work performance for no apparent reason
    • being obsessed with time
    • appearing withdrawn and isolated
    • making last minute cancellations
    • apologising for a partner or family members behaviour
    • partner seems controlling over work schedule – i.e. dropping off and picking up from work
    • wearing clothing in a way that tries to cover up bruises

    People experiencing DFV may experience a wide range of physical and emotional consequences. For some, the abuse greatly affects their lives over a significant period of time and the process of recovery can be long and hard. Others may be able to recover and start a new life relatively quickly after leaving an abusive relationship. Employers should be aware that even if the person attempts to leave the relationship the abuse can often continue and in some cases become more severe after separation.

    For many victims, DFV will continue at work through constant phone calls, texts or emails and the person using the violence arriving at the workplace or waiting outside. This harassment and threats, or perceived threats, can be enough for a victim to leave her employment through fear or embarrassment as to how her employer and colleagues will react to her situation.

    DFV can take many forms. For example your employee might be late at work becuase the person using violence towards them is:

    • hiding or stealing  car keys or transport cards
    • failing to provide childcare
    • physically restraining or assaulting the employee before work

    Many victims are forced to resign from their jobs for safety reasons or because they were forced to stop working by the abuser. Loss of job security and therefore loss of financial independence, compounds the problems victims have to overcome when dealing with domestic abuse.

    2. Respond to the identification of DFV

    Domestic abuse can affect an employees health and well-being, work performance and productivity and can become a cost and risk to the employer but workplaces are ideal places for support and help to be provided.

    It may be easier for the person experiencing the violence if the workplace is already aware of the impacts and signs of DFV and has sent clear and consistent messages to all employees that the workplace will respond in non-judgemental and supportive ways. This can assist to build trust with employees who are affected to reassure them that the workplace will  be supportive and assist them to seek appropriate assistance.

    It is also important to recognise that attempting to leave or address an abusive relationship may increase the  risks and dangers of the violence accelerating for  the person experiencing the violence.  It can be supportive to have a number of psychological and practical resources put in place to assist the person especially at this time. This is why safety planning along with continued certainty about employment and access to financial resources and income are important.

    Guidelines for workplaces.

    • Act to ensure your workplace is DV Work Aware
    • Be informed about DFV and how it might be impacting on the employee.
    • Create an environment where employees feel safe and able to talk about issues that are affecting them
    • Choose a private place to talk if conversations are intiated
    • Raise any concerns about performance, conduct, absenteeism or other impacts of DFV in an understanding and supporting manner and offer assistance from the workplace
    • Give the employee time to tell you what she needs to tell you
    • Reassure her that she is not to blame for whatever has happened
    • Communicate any concerns for safey and safety of children and ask about what might assist to increase safety
    • Do not offer advice but rather provide details of appropriate support services that are available (see below)
    • Be aware of your own feelings and attitudes and remain calm
    • Assist the employee to access any specially trained people in your workplace and to access any workplace entitlements or policies that may exist in your workplace, or provide information about these if you are familiar with them
    • Ask questions that only relate to the impact of the violence in the workplace, such as safety, travelling to and from work and what the workplace specifically can do to help
    • Encourage her to seek help with specialist support services if she is not already
    • Let the employee know that you will keep what she has disclosed confidential, except in the case of a clear threat or risk to the workplace when you will be obliged to take action on a “need to know” basis
    • Check in with the employee before taking any further action and do not implement actions at work without her consent or involvement  (Nothing about her – without her)

    See this short video for more information click here

    How can unions assist?

    Unions can assist by working within their industries and with employers to promote DFV related initiatives and entitlements in the workplace. Union delegates or officers may be important first points of contact for disclosures of DFV at work and should be equipped to assist members with referral and information  about accessing rights and entitlements or in advocating on behalf of members and negotiating flexible or supportive work arrangements.

    Over two million Australian employees already have entitlements to paid DFV leave largely through enterprise level bargaining. For more information visit https://www.actu.org.au/our-work/policy-issues/domestic-violence

    Risk assessment and Safety Planning 

    Safety and security measures can play a critical role in protecting all employees at work. These should be sensitive and respectful of the needs, expectations and choices of the persons experiencing DFV having regard to the safety of the victim and their children as priority.

    Safety planning is an important part of a workplace response to DFV and can consist of a workplace safety plan and a personal safety plan. Workplaces may consider working with specialist DFV organisations and the employee to develop these.  Situations where both the victim and the person using the violence share the same workplace can be volatile and the possibility of contact should be minimised. It is important that both are provided with specialist referrals for assistance.  It should be made clear that abuse occuring in the workplace or with organisational resources will not be tolerated. Specialist DFV services are aware of issues that may not be apparent in  workplace level disclosures of DFV, and can provide valuable insights into safety planning.

    A workplace safety plan sets out specific actions that need to be taken to keep the workplace and all of its employees safe from threats of DFV. The content will depend on factors such as the size, type, location and number of workers as well as exposure to public access.

    A personal safety plan is designed to keep the person experiencing DFV safer while at work and should be identified to meet their self identified needs or those recommended by a specialist DFV service provider with the overall safety of the workplace in mind. Such a plan should establish clear communication processes for the employee to report a threat at work.

    While managing risk is a priority for workplaces – action should not be taken without informing the employee what is happening and without seeking thier consent. 

    Specialist training is recommended in this area to gain expertise into the complexities of the dynamics of domestic violence and in interviewing those experiencing  DFV in a sensitive and effective manner.

    Practical things the workplace can do to enhance safety

    • Ensure that key staff receive training to enable them to recognise and respond appropriately to suspicion or disclosures of DFV
    • Ensure staff are aware of their responsibility not to divulge personal information about employees to callers (such as addresses, telephone numbers, or shift patterns)
    • Display information in the workplace about helpline numbers
    • Review security of personal information held about the employee
    • Assist the employee to make a safety plan for the workplace
    • Remove the employee’s name and number from automated phone directories; change her work telephone number
    • Check with the victim that any child care arrangements are secure
    • Ensure access to buildings is open to authorised staff only
    • Ensure car parks have adequate lighting
    • Set up security cameras in public entrances and where the employee works
    • Have a security guard patrol the work area or increase security measures 
    • Utilise CCTV surveillance; for example, keeping intruders easily observable, keeping areas such as car parks visible
    • Place silent alarms or buzzers at the employee’s workstation
    • Change key codes for gaining entry to work premises
    • Set up procedures for alerting security staff and police and being clear about what to do if the perpetrator gains access to the workplace

    When you are considering what support you can provide to employees experiencing domestic violence, it is useful to review what existing HR policies are already in place for example: flexible work policies, health and safety policies about workplace violence and security policies.

    If leave is accessed then employees may need assistance in planning return to work depending on the length of absence.

    3. Refer to a specialist DFV service provider

    The issues associated with domestic violence are often complex and require a range of specialist supports including counseling, legal and court support and accommodation. It is important that employees are made aware of these supports and that your workplace maintains up to date details of these agencies.

    Specialist services staff are aware of the special needs of Aboriginal women and women from other cultures, as well as those living in rural and remote areas. Most services can provide culturally appropriate workers and translators where required.

    See the links to referral information below, or call 1800 RESPECT (1800 737 732) or download the DAISY APP Local Domestic and Family Violence Service Locator in your area here

    4. Record and Monitor

    Appropriate record-keeping relating to disclosures of domestic violence is important and while confidentiality and privacy are important, such records may be needed for risk management, and potential legal actions relating to criminal charges or family law parenting matters. De-identified information, relating to tracking any issues that arise, can be useful for monitoring processes and for continuous improvement practises.

    This is where a policy about record keeping becomes crucial and employees are aware about how their confidential information will be managed.  Importantly, it should be made clear that the recording of DFV concerns or incidents will have no impact on the employee’s employment record.

    Privacy is always an issue to consider. You should take into account privacy laws, other laws (for example, the Family Law ACT 1975) and confidentiality policies, along with limits to confidentiality for:

    • Child protection purposes
    • Reporting of serious injuries where a criminal offence may have been committed

    Workplace Health & Safety (WHS) obligations necessitate that identified risks are monitored and recorded including all incidents of violence or threats in the workplace.

    The employee may use such records if she is or police on her behalf are  applying for a DV Protection Order;  so it is important that the records are clear and accurate and any witnesses to incidents are noted.

    Organisations will need to make provision for this information to be confidential, where there is a connection to DFV. This issue can be tricky and it is appropriate to discuss with the employee an outline that her information is private and will be used only in consultation with her and on a needs to know basis.

    Responding to perpetrators of domestic violence in the workplace

    A recent study in the United States revealed that 44% of perpetrators had disclosed information about their violence to a work colleague[3].

    How workplaces respond to perpetrators in their workforce sends a vital message about taking action against domestic violence. Good practice responses would observe principals that are both safe and constructive and are clear that abuse is always unacceptable and may constitute criminal behaviour.  Dealing with perpetrators is an important aspect of any workplace policy about DFV and should be thoughtfully included.

    This is a complex area and DV Work Aware can provide more information in relation to policy development.

    [3] Schmidt, MC ( 2012), “Effects of Domestic Violence on the Workplace: A Vermont survey of male offenders enrolled in batterer intervention programs” University of Vermont.

    Developing a DFV Workplace Policy

    If senior management agree that the organisation will benefit from a DFV policy, an effective way to start its development and implementation is to establish a working group of stakeholders including Human Resources personnel, security, staff  and EAP representatives. Unions can also provide valuable support through involvement in policy development and many offer model clauses. See developing a workplace policy response to domestic and family violence.

    DFV response in the workplace is a specialist area and organisations are advised to take advantage of the resources available through DV Work Aware – including in house training in the workplace –  to assist them for the most effective outcome achieving best practice and complying with legislation.

    Organisations introducing a DFV Policy should take steps to ensure that all staff members understand the policy and supervisors and managers undertake training on the implementation of the policy. Ideally each organisation should have a specially trained contact or DFV resource officer who is a key point of contact and referral.

    Consideration should be given to how the DFV policy interacts with other organisational policies.

    Ensure your EAP providers are qualified and have specialist expertise in the area of DFV before engaging them for DFV referrals.

    Be aware of diversity or language issues to ensure the policy in inclusive and relevant to all employees.

    Launching , promoting and publicising the DFV policy ensures the policy is known to employees and managers. This assists to create an environment that lets employees know it is safe to disclose and to support others and that the response of the organisation will be to follow a documented process.

    For more information on developing and implementing a policy specific to your workplace contact DVWA.

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