The Human Rights Commission has estimated that violence from an intimate partner affects one in six Australian female workers. Therefore, at some point employers will encounter an employee who has experienced family violence.

Evidence shows that support provided by employers in such situations is increasingly becoming an expectation. A study conducted in 2012 revealed that 94% of employees felt their employers should take a leadership role around violence towards women. While a survey by the Social Research Centre based in Melbourne found that of the 48% of respondents who had told their manager about an experience of domestic violence, only 10% found the manager’s response helpful.

Although workplaces are not solely responsible for addressing family violence, there are strategies that can be adopted to provide support. The steps that workplaces can take to start to address family violence include:

  1. Providing education to all employees to raise awareness and increase understanding of family violence and the potential impacts in the workplace.
  2. Communicating that family violence is considered a workplace issue and practical support is available for all employees.
  3. Consider designating family violence contact officers within the workplace and ensure they are equipped to respond to disclosures of family violence.
  4. Empowering workplace representatives to provide support to impacted employees by exploring their short and long-term needs, providing resources, connecting them with EAP Assist and checking in regularly.
  5. Consider implementing appropriate work-based entitlements such as flexible work hours or flexibility around work locations in order to help manage the impact of family violence.
  6. Consider implementing a leave policy to ensure family violence leave is easily accessible and free from stigma. Family violence is rarely a one-off incident and workplaces will need to prepare for instances where employees may need to take time off to attend hearings or appointments.

Current Policy

In 2012, the Fair Work Act provided employees in Australia with the right to request flexible working arrangements for reasons of family violence. While under the Workplace Gender Equality Act 2012, workplaces with 100 or more employees are required to report annually on the strategies they have in place to support employees experiencing domestic and family violence.

In November 2017, the National Domestic Violence Order Scheme brought in new laws so that domestic violence orders issued in one state or territory will apply and be enforceable in all states and territories across Australia.

The Australian Human Rights Commission is currently lobbying for family and domestic violence to be included in anti-discrimination legislation to protect employees from discrimination due to experiencing domestic violence.

While these laws take shape and lead to new policies in our workplaces, it is important for workplaces to be aware of their legislative requirements in this complex and changing landscape.