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Developing a Workplace Policy Response to Domestic and Family Violence

Having an effective response to DFV in the workplace that provides support for victims can mean the difference between staying in an abusive situation or taking action to address it. HOWEVER,  ensure that the right support is in place before launching any policy that informs employees it is safe to disclose as DFV is  a complex issue and awareness of available supports including specialist services, should be part of an effective response.

Be aware of existing rights and obligations that are relevant to domestic and family violence in the workplace:

Enterprise level entitlements

In 2016 alone data on domestic/family violence (DFV) clauses in enterprise agreements (Department of Employment Workplace Agreement Database) shows a large increase in agreements with DFV clauses from 448 in 2014 to 1526 in 2016. 

Check to see if your workplace already has an entitlement in its industrial instrument:  An estimated two million Australian workers have access to leave entitlements that they have achieved with union support through enterprise bargaining. Such entitlements aim to protect jobs and increase safety for victims and are an enforceable workplace protection

Right to Request a Flexible Work Arrangement 

In 2013, the Fair Work Act provided an entitlement to the right to request a flexible work arrangement for reasons of domestic violence.

An employee has the Right to Request Flexible Working Arrangements if they have 12 months continuous service with the employer, and, if casual they have an expectation of ongoing employment on a regular and systematic basis.

An employee can make the request if you are experiencing domestic or family violence or if you are the carer of somebody who is experiencing domestic or family violence.

A request must be in writing and may ask for a variety of flexible arrangements that could be negotiated with the cooperation of the employer, for example:

  • changes in work patterns for safety reasons: e.g. patterns of working hours and/or location of work
  • transfer to an alternative working location either permanently or as a temporary safety measure
  • change in duties to remove you from public access (please note removal from public access is difficult in some workplaces, e.g. retail so while you can ask for this the employer may have grounds to refuse)
  • flexibility in working hours regarding the number of hours worked and rostering to allow you to attend matters related to the DFV and leaving the abuser, for example: court appearances, finding safe accommodation, school appointments or transfers, counselling, doctor’s appointment

Visit the Fair Work site to read more on:

  • who is entitled to request flexible working arrangements
  • for what reason
  • employer’s obligations to consider them and reasons an employer can give to refuse

Under the Workplace Gender Equality Act 2012, relevant employers are required to report on the strategies they adopt to support employees experiencing domestic violence.

Workplace Health and Safety Considerations 

Domestic and family violence can become workplace violence when a perpetrator such as a partner or ex-partner or other family member attempts to harm an employee at work. In some cases there can be a risk to the physical and psychological safety not only of employees who are victims of violence but also to co-workers.  A workplace policy along with a workplace safety risk management strategy can be  important tools to recognise and respond to the safety and wellbeing considerations of DFV.

Some circumstances in which DFV may pose a clear issue or risk include:

  • physical or verbal abuse between partners employed at the same workplace;
  • threats to a person or the person’s co-workers at the workplace;
  • harassment or attacks on a person or co-workers at their workplace, either in person or through phone calls and emails;
  • stalking a person at their workplace and
  • in the most extreme cases, DFV-related homicide in the workplace.

 Part of an overall approach to increase safety for vicitms of DFV is to have both a personal and a workplace safety plan. Personal plans can be done with the assistance of a specialist DFV service and trained people in the workplace can assist in developing a workplace plan.

Some safety measures at work might include:

  • Reviewing security of personal information held by the workplace including details of next of kin and emergency contacts
  • Change keys or key pad numbers for enty to workplace
  • Alery recetpion and relevant staff to existing prevention orders (with permission from the victim) and provide photo ID of the perpertartor to them
  • Remind all staff never to divulge personal information about employees to callers including whether they are at work or no, addresses, phone numbers or patterns of working hours.
  • Discuss with the employee thier needs around changes to working hours or consider a request to relocate to a different location
  • Establish a method of communication with the employee for contact in case of absences
  • Help the person vary their routes of travel to and from work
  • With the person’s consent inform work colleagues on a need to know basis and agree on the best response if the person using the violence conacts or attends the workplace.
  • Link employees to Employee Assistance services.

It is important to note that where DFV constitutes a criminal acts (such as breaches of protection orders or assaults) these become the responsibility of the police and reporting these instances should be made accordingly.

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.

A model Clause for domestic and family violence policy

*This information is adapted from The Services Union Model Clause and should be developed in consultation with employees. DVWA can provide specialist assistance to workplaces in this area through Workplace Training and policy development consultation.

1. Background

(a) The employer considers that all forms of violence are a violation of fundamental human rights. Violence threatens the victim’s physical health, housing security and mental wellbeing. People exposed to violence are at greater risk of developing a range of health problems, and are more likely to report poorer physical health overall and engage in practices that are harmful to their health. And while family and domestic violence cuts across socio-economic groups, it is reported at higher rates among disadvantaged Queenslanders.

(b) The employer recognises that employees may face domestic and family violence that affects their attendance or performance at work. The employer is committed to providing leave and other support to staff that experience domestic and family violence.

(c) Domestic and Family violence for the purpose of this policy includes physical, sexual, financial, verbal, psychological, spiritual, or emotional abuse of a person by an immediate family member, or who has been or is in a continuing social relationship of a romantic or intimate nature with the victim, or who is or has continually or at regular intervals lived in the same household as the victim.

 2. Special Leave for employees experiencing domestic and family violence

Full time, part time or fixed term employees personally experiencing domestic and family violence may access XXX  paid Special Leave for medical appointments, legal proceedings, attending to accommodation matters, childcare and education matters and other activities, which are related to domestic and family violence. This may be taken in units of one hour. Employees may also access any or all of their accrued Personal Leave, Family and Community Leave, TOIL, Flex, or Recreation Leave for medical appointments, legal proceedings, attending to accommodation matters, addressing childcare and education matters and other activities, related to domestic and family violence.

3. Leave for employees supporting a person experiencing domestic and family violence

Employees supporting a person experiencing domestic and family violence may take Personal Leave or any other form of accrued leave to accompany them to court, to hospital, or to assist with childcare, accommodation or other matters.

An employee including a casual employee who provides support to a person experiencing family and domestic violence is entitled to access family and domestic violence leave for the purpose of:

(a) accompanying that person to legal proceedings, counselling, appointments with a medical or legal practitioner;

(b) assisting with relocations or other safety arrangements; or

(c) other activities associated with the family and domestic violence including caring for children.

This leave will be in addition to existing leave entitlements, may be taken as consecutive or single days or as a fraction of a day, and can be taken without prior approval.

4. Notice and notification

While notice is not strictly required prior to taking the leave, an employee should notify their manager as soon as reasonably practicable of their intention to take or remain on Special or other leave for this purpose. Proof of domestic and family violence may be required and can be a document issued by the Police Service, a Court, a Doctor, a Domestic and Family Violence Support Service or Lawyer, or a statutory declaration.

5. Individual Support

In order to provide support to an employee experiencing domestic and family violence and to provide a safe work environment, the employer will approve any reasonable request from an employee for changes to their span of hours or pattern or hours and/or shift patterns; job redesign or changes to duties; changes to their telephone number or email address to avoid harassing contact; or any other appropriate measure including those available under existing family friendly or flexible work arrangements. Employees experiencing domestic and family violence may wish to be referred to the Employee Assistance Program (EAP or other appropriate domestic violence support services. The employer EAP includes professionals trained specifically in domestic and family violence.

6. Confidentiality

An employee experiencing domestic and family violence may raise the issue with their supervisor or the relevant manager responsible for human resource management. The supervisor may seek advice from the human resource manager. All personal information concerning domestic and family violence will be kept confidential and only shared with employees who have a genuine need to know. No information will be kept on an employee’s personnel file without their express written permission.

The employer will work collaboratively with the employee who is experiencing domestic violence to develop protocols to restrict access to the employee’s personal information and contact details.

7. Adverse action

No adverse action will be taken against an employee if their attendance or performance at work suffers as a result of experiencing domestic and family violence provided they make a confidential disclosure of the violence to their supervisor or the human resource manager. The Employer may require evidence of domestic and family violence as per sub clause 4.

8. Contact person

The employer will identify a contact who will be trained in domestic violence, discretion and privacy issues. The contact will be in possession of appropriate resources and referral information. The employer will advertise the name of the contact within the workplace and provide the details at induction for new staff.

The employer will nominate a contact person to provide support for employees experiencing family and domestic violence and notify employees of the name of the nominated contact person. The nominated contact person must be trained in relation to family and domestic violence and privacy issues such as family violence risk assessment and risk management and receive paid time off work to attend such training. The contact person may be a union delegate, OHS Representative or HR Representative.

An employee experiencing family and domestic violence may raise the issue with the nominated contact person, their immediate supervisor, or their union delegate.

Where requested by an employee, the contact person will liaise with the employee’s supervisor on the employee’s behalf, and will make a recommendation on the most appropriate form of support.

The employer will develop guidelines to supplement this clause which detail the appropriate action to be taken in the event that an employee reports family and domestic violence.

9. Workplace Safety Planning Strategies

The employer will develop and implement workplace safety planning strategies to ensure the protection of all employees. The employer will ensure all employees are aware of and trained in the safety planning strategies. If an employer becomes aware, or ought reasonably to be aware, that domestic violence that would likely expose a worker to physical injury may occur in the workplace, the employer will endeavour  to take every precaution reasonable in the circumstances for the protection of the worker. 

Safety planning can include:

  • Identifying and assessing the risks of domestic and family violence occurring in the workplace
  • Implementing strategies to keep workers safer can include:
    • Accompanying employees to the car park or transport when leaving work.
    • Notifying relevant staff not to disclose private information about employees’ locations or movements
    • Ensuring employees do not work alone at locations with public access
    • Providing a photo of the abusive person to front desk staff, so that they can identify them and call the police if necessary.
    • Developing a policy on workplace violence.
    • Practical technological updates to protect employees from abusive phone calls and emails.
  • Monitoring and reviewing effectiveness and updake of safety strategies

Organisations introducing a DFV Policy should ensure 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.

Introducing new workplace domestic violence rights or policy responses may require a change in workplace culture and is part of the broader need for social change about domestic and family violence in our communities.

Policy development consultation

DV Work Aware is available to provide specialist and tailored advice to workplaces who wish to develop a workplace policy response to domestic and family violence. Contact us for more information.

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