Domestic & Family Violence – A Serious Workplace Issue In Australia
Australia also has a range of federal, state and territory legislation that prohibits discrimination, as well as legislation which requires employers to create workplace environments that are safe and free from violence, discrimination and harassment. The role of Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs) is continuing to be integral within such legislation & policies.
In Australia, approximately one woman is killed by her current or former partner every week, often after a history of domestic and family violence. Research shows:
- 34% of women have experienced physical violence since the age of 15.
- 17% of women have experienced violence from a current or former partner since the age of 15 (compared to 5.3% of men).
- 30% of respondents to a 2011 survey on domestic and family violence and the workplace reported they had experienced violence, and 5% of those respondents had experienced violence in the last 12 months.
Domestic and family violence is not just a private or personal issue. When an employee is living with domestic and family violence, there are often very real costs and negative impacts that flow to the workplace including:
Health costs: In Australia, intimate partner violence is the leading contributor to death, disability and illness in women aged 15 to 44 years. It is responsible for more of the disease burden in women than many other well-known risk factors, such as smoking and obesity.
Economic costs: In 2002/03 the cost of intimate partner violence to the Australian economy was estimated at $8.1 billion. If no preventative action is taken, this cost is projected to rise to $9.9 billion annually by 2021/22. $235 million of this $9.9 billion will be borne by employers and $609 million will be borne in production-related losses.
Workplace costs: Within the population of women who have experienced violence, or are currently experiencing violence, the Australian Bureau of Statistics estimates that between 55% and 70% are currently in the workforce – that is, approximately 800,000 women, or around one in six female workers. This means that a significant number of Australian workplaces will be impacted by women’s experiences of domestic and family violence.
Some common costs and impacts include:
- Decreased staff performance and productivity
- Increased staff turnover and absenteeism
- Negative impact on the organisation’s reputation and image.
Impacts on employees: Research into the workplace implications of domestic and family violence has demonstrated how such violence can undermine the working lives of both victims and survivors. The 2011 National Domestic Violence and the Workplace Survey found that nearly half (48%) of respondents who reported experiencing domestic and family violence said the violence had affected their ability to get to work. The main impact of violence was on work performance – 16% of victims and survivors reported being distracted, tired or unwell and 10% needed to take time off work. Further, women who experience domestic and family violence are also more likely to have lower personal incomes, a disrupted work history, often have to change jobs at short notice and are very often employed in casual or part time work.
Domestic and family violence perpetrated in the workplace: The perpetrator of domestic and family violence may go so far as to target the victim or survivor at work. They may do this through emails, by phone or by turning up at the office in order to try and get the victim/survivor fired or force them to resign. This can be part of an effort to increase control over the victim/survivor– that is, by increasing the victim/survivor’s economic dependency, undermining their self-confidence – or in order to punish them for attempting to leave the violent relationship.
Victims and survivors of domestic and family violence can face a number of challenges in the workplace. Discrimination is one such challenge. When experienced, discrimination can compound the harm of the original acts of violence.
There is also a growing body of evidence which shows that victims and survivors of domestic and family violence often experience discrimination related to their experience of domestic and family violence, particularly in the workplace. These women may be discriminated against, for example, as a result of taking time out of work (sick leave or carers leave) or because they temporarily have lower levels of productivity due to the violence that they are experiencing at home.
Discrimination related to the experience of domestic and family violence can take the form of:
- being denied leave or flexible work arrangements that would assist victims and survivors to attend to violence-related matters, such as attending court or moving into a shelter
- having employment terminated for reasons relating to the violence they are experiencing, including a drop in performance or attendance caused by the domestic and family violence, or
- being transferred or demoted for reasons related to the violence.
Under international human rights law gender-based violence, such as domestic and family violence, is recognised as a form of discrimination that seriously inhibits women’s ability to enjoy rights and freedoms on a basis of equality with men.
Women who experience domestic and family violence are not only at risk of discrimination in the workplace, but in other areas of their lives such as in the provision of goods and services. Research undertaken as part of the Safe at Home, Safe at Work project suggests that women in or leaving violent relationships often experience discrimination in accessing housing services, particularly rental accommodation.
Workplaces can play a positive role by providing safe and supportive environments for their employees, particularly those employees who are experiencing violence. This can result in strong benefits for the employer, including higher retention rates, higher staff morale, and higher health outcomes for their employees.
There are a range of actions a workplace can take to ensure that they are providing adequate support for victims and survivors of domestic or family violence.
The role of leaders
An important first step is for workplaces to begin a conversation about domestic and family violence – one where employers send a clear message to their employees that:
- domestic and family violence is an issue that affects the workplace
- those experiencing it are not alone
- they should feel confident that disclosing a violent situation will not result in adverse consequences for them or their employment, and that
- bystanders should stand up against violence in the workplace.
Establish clear policies and procedures
- Develop a policy about supporting women who are victims and survivors of domestic and family violence.
- Develop policies for safe work places, free from harassment and bullying, which also deal with employees who perpetrate violence in the workplace.
- Ensure these policies and procedures are clearly articulated to staff and that employees are encouraged to make use of them.
- Use the Domestic Violence Policies and Procedures guide.
Make provision for leave or flexible work arrangements
- In their enterprise agreements or awards, workplaces can provide dedicated paid leave for women experiencing domestic and family violence. As of 2013, over one million Australian workers are able to avail themselves of leave and other protections made available through domestic and family violence clauses in their agreement or award conditions.
- Offer flexible work arrangements, as provided for under the Fair Work Act.
Establish clear roles and responsibilities and build capacity
- Clearly articulate the roles and responsibilities of line managers and senior leadership in supporting victims and survivors and in dealing with perpetrators in the workplace.
- Ensure managers and those responsible for policy implementation and safety planning receive adequate training and support.
Implement an awareness-raising and education programs
- Ensure all staff have an understanding of the impacts of domestic and family violence on individuals and on the workplace.
- Ensure staff receive training on how to recognise signs that a colleague may be experiencing domestic and family violence.
Conduct safety planning with affected employees
- Ensure managers receive training in developing a safety plan for women.
- Use the Developing an Effective Safety Plan guide.
Provide referrals and external support
- Ensure those staff required to support other staff (eg. managers) are aware of the appropriate support and referral pathways for women who experience violence and men who perpetrate violence, as well as support available for themselves.
Ensure adequate support is provided for affected employees
- Discuss the short and longer term needs and requirements of the affected employee.
- If required, develop a safety plan.
- Ensure ongoing communication and regularly check in with the affected employee.
- Respect privacy and confidentiality.
- Make appropriate support services available, including Employee Assistance Programs.
QUEENSLAND PROCUREMENT POLICY 2017
Every year the Queensland Government spends billions of dollars on a wide range of goods and services to support the delivery of frontline services for Queenslanders. The Queensland Procurement Policy is the government’s overarching policy for the procurement of goods and services. The Queensland Government’s targets and commitments within it procurement policy has recently been amended to include:
- Take into account workplace policies and practices aimed at ending domestic and family violence as part of supplier evaluation and selection.
It is assumed at all other Australian states will soon introduce a similar policy.
It is recommended that companies intending to procure work from the Queensland & other states government consider having a suitable Employee Assistance Program in place to support employees suffering from Domestic & Family Violence.
Australian Government: Domestic & Family Violence Policy 2016
The prevention of domestic and family violence, and the support of those affected by this violence, is a key priority for the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet.
The purpose of the Domestic and Family Violence Policy is to make all employees safe within our workplace and to encourage employees at risk of or are experiencing domestic and family violence to seek support from the Department and be comfortable in doing so, by creating a safe and supportive workplace culture.
The Policy details support mechanisms available for all employees affected by domestic or family violence and sets out steps for managers and colleagues on how they can support staff in these situations. This includes having clear protocols and information for managers and colleagues to refer to when seeking assistance for, or responding to, people affected by domestic and family violence (both individuals affected and perpetrators).
The use of Employee Assistance Programs is supported by this policy.
The Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) Congress
In 2012, the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) Congress endorsed the following principles in their ‘Work, Life, Family’ Policy Framework. These principles lay the groundwork for workplaces to provide family violence leave allowances in their Enterprise Agreements:
- Dedicated additional paid leave for employees experiencing family or domestic violence;
- Confidentiality of employee details must be assured and respected;
- Workplace safety planning strategies to ensure protection of employees should be developed and clearly understood by the parties concerned;
- The agreement should provide for referral of employees to appropriate domestic violence support services;
- Provision of appropriate training and paid time off work for agreed roles for nominated contact persons (including union delegates of health and safety representatives if necessary);
- Employees entitled to family and domestic violence leave should also be able to access flexible work arrangements where appropriate; and
- Employees must be protected against adverse action or discrimination on the basis of their disclosure of, experience of, or perceived experience of, family and domestic violence.
Government of South Australia – Department of Communities & Social Inclusion – Domestic Violence Workplace Policy
The experience of domestic violence can have serious impacts on a person’s physical, mental and emotional health, financial and housing security. Employees who are experiencing or escaping domestic violence are encouraged to advise their manager or Human Resources in order that appropriate safety measures can be put in place (in the workplace) and support provided. Managers and/or Human Resources can discuss options for flexible working arrangements and leave that may assist the employee to address health or personal matters related to their experience of violence and can also refer them to counselling and support services.
A consequence of domestic violence may be the deterioration in an employee’s attendance and/or performance at work. The DCSI Domestic Violence Workplace Policy recognises the need for managers to consider the impact violence can have on an employee’s performance and be sensitive to their experience of domestic violence when addressing attendance and/or performance issues.
An employee who discloses they are experiencing domestic violence to their manager or to Human Resources is assured their information will be kept strictly confidential and will not be recorded on their personal file. There may be times, however, when there is an inherent safety risk to either the affected employee or other employees (for example, if there is a risk the perpetrator might come into the workplace). In these instances disclosure of the situation will be kept to a minimum and on a ‘needs to know’ for the purpose of maintaining safety in the workplace.
3.2 Counselling and Support Services – Employee Assistance Program
The Employee Assistance Program (EAP) provides counselling and support to any employee or their immediate family member seeking assistance with a challenging issue or to improve their health and wellbeing. An Employee Assistance Program provides timely intervention to help employees deal effectively with any difficulties, and assists them with referral to other professionals or agencies if longer-term assistance is needed.
Housing & Community Services ACT – Domestic & Family Violence Policy 2015
Violence against women and children is one of the most serious issues we face as a community and has been described as a ‘global public health problem of epidemic proportions, requiring urgent action’.
Now, more than ever, family, domestic and sexual violence requires a coordinated response. This must start with prevention; address legal and crisis support services; continue through to post-crisis support for those affected by violence; and include interventions for people who use violence.
HACS acknowledges that supporting women and children who experience domestic and family violence can have a significant impact on staff members. Hearing about traumatic and violent incidents can be upsetting and overwhelming. It can also have a negative impact or triggering effect on staff members who may have personal experience of domestic and family violence. In these instances, it may be useful to approach your colleagues or Manager for support. You can also seek support from a Employee Assistance Program (EAP), which is a comprehensive service designed to assist in meeting the challenges and demands of your work and personal life.
Domestic Violence – Workshop
There is much research indicating that supporting victims of domestic & family violence within the workplace can bring about significant positive differences, not only to the lives of effected individuals and their families, but also to the culture of the workplace.
EapAssist strongly encourages employers to support victims of domestic & family violence and in doing so provides free Workshops to inform employers how best to address domestic & family violence within the workplace. Workshops are currently being held in Victoria and to arrange a workshop at your location please contact us via our Contact Form.