In Australia one in six women have experienced violence at the hands of a current or former partner. Domestic violence is estimated to cost the Australian economy $21.7 billion a year.

94% of employees agree that employers should take a leadership role in educating their workforce about respectful relationships between men and women. A National Domestic Violence Workplace Survey revealed that 48% of respondents who had experienced domestic violence disclosed it to a manager but only 10% found their response to be helpful.

Workplaces have a duty of care and need to have an action plan in place outlining how to handle domestic violence. Managers should examine current policies and consider training staff to understand domestic and family violence.

There are a number of different ways employers can provide a supportive environment. Some workplaces include an entitlement to domestic violence leave in their enterprise agreements. Others offer flexible work arrangements, special leave, the ability to change extension numbers or leave a bag of belongings in a safe place, the possibility of working in another office, and domestic violence support information through workplace training and induction.

Education and training that identifies domestic violence as a workplace issue and equips workplaces to respond effectively can offer pathways out of violence for those experiencing it. An important first step is for workplaces to begin a conversation about domestic violence so employers can send a clear message to their employees that:

  • domestic violence affects everyone in the workplace and is unacceptable
  • those experiencing it are not alone
  • victims should feel confident that disclosing a violent situation will not jeopardise their employment
  • their employer will support them and work with them to find solutions to their situation, for example by developing a safety plan
  • disrespectful, aggressive and violent behaviour will not be tolerated and bystanders need to feel they can stand up to it in the workplace. Violence can spill over from the home into the workplace.
  • Helping to educate employees and communicating a zero tolerance for abusive, harassing, inappropriate language (including jokes) is a step towards changing attitudes and stereotypes

Failure by workplaces to acknowledge or address domestic violence can indeed compound the harms of such violence. People experiencing domestic violence usually live in a cycle of fear, fear for their safety and that of children, fear of not being able to keep up the façade at work and fulfil her duties and responsibilities while dealing with the unpredictable actions of her partner. Ultimately fear of poverty, which is a major reason for victims and survivors remaining in violent or abusive relationships. The support that an individual receives from an employer can make the difference.