4 practical ways employers can support employees experiencing domestic and family violence
By Linda Peach and Heidi Sundin
If you or someone you know is experiencing domestic violence, you can ring the Domestic Violence Line for help on 1800 656 463. More information is available here: http://www.community.nsw.gov.au/parents,-carers-and-families/domestic-and-family-violence/domestic-violence-line.
What is domestic and family violence?
Domestic and family violence is a violation of human rights, characterised by the intentional and systematic use of violent, abusive or intimidating behaviours to threaten, manipulate and control family members, intimate partners or former partners. Domestic and family violence can include physical assault, sexual assault, emotional abuse, verbal abuse, social abuse and financial abuse. Abusive behaviour usually increases over time, meaning that without intervention, people who remain in these relationships are at risk of escalating harm as time goes on.
There is clear evidence that gender inequality is the primary underlying cause of domestic and family violence, via a male sense of entitlement to women. Behaviours that signal a dominant attitude towards women (and others perceived to be weaker or subordinate) usually emerge in childhood.
Approximately one in six women will experience some form of domestic and family violence in their lifetime. The NSW Police receive reports of around 125,000 incidents of domestic and family violence annually, and they estimate that more than double that number are not officially reported. The cost of domestic and family violence in NSW alone is estimated to be a staggering $4.5 billion each year.
What are our governments doing about it?
The Federal Government released the Third Action Plan of the National Plan to Reduce Violence against Women and their Children 2010-2022 in 2016. The Third Action Plan, National Priority 1: Prevention and early intervention places a strong emphasis on the need to embed gender equality in workplace culture, increase women’s workforce participation and economic security and to increase men’s involvement in efforts to improve gender equality and reduce violence.
The NSW Government Office for Women released the It Stops Here. Domestic and Family Violence Framework for Reform in 2014. In many respects, the “It Stops Here” framework provides a useful guideline for employers. It includes a range of strategic approaches including referral pathways to people who are trained in the most effective ways to respond; broad education of people about domestic and family violence, what to look for and how to respond; and a clear policy that embeds these actions in workplace culture.
How does domestic and family violence affect workplaces?
Domestic and family violence can have a range of consequences in the workplace. If an employee is experiencing domestic violence, they may find it difficult to concentrate, may be slow to complete work, may have an increased number of unscheduled absences, and may find it difficult to cope emotionally with even small changes in their environment. They may have lost confidence in their abilities, may show signs of increased anxiety and/or depression, may become socially isolated at work or may be uncharacteristically moody or emotional.
Workplaces can become refuges for people who are experiencing domestic and family violence, providing a relatively protected place to escape from violence for a time. When employers also intentionally provide best practice support to people experiencing domestic and family violence, they have a better chance of limiting the negative impact on the workplace and on the person or people involved.
Someone who perpetrates abusive behaviour at home may not be readily identifiable at work or in any situation outside the home. Indeed, many abusers are charming and affable people outside the relationship/s they control. Abusers may also show similar signs at work as the person they abuse, such as increased absenteeism and reduced productivity. While the victim of abuse is most likely absent through injury or incapacitation, and may be less productive due to anxiety, fear, depression and emotional trauma, a perpetrator may have increased absenteeism and reduced productivity because they are perpetrating abuse through stalking or monitoring the victim during working hours.
Domestic and family violence can also affect the workplace if a perpetrator makes threatening phone calls or sends abusive emails or text messages to someone at work or makes personal visits to the workplace of someone they are abusing. Perpetrators may also use technology they have access to at work to perpetrate abuse against someone inside or outside their workplace. Abusers may also enlist colleagues in their workplace or their victim’s workplace as ‘enablers’, often first convincing them that they (the abuser) are the victim.
While there is a limit to what employers can do if they think an employee is perpetrating domestic and family abuse, they can take some steps. Paying careful attention to informal and formal complaints about workplace harassment and bullying, particularly when there are repeated complaints about one person from different people, and taking appropriate steps to deal with any issues in the workplace. Appropriate steps may include performance management, referring a person on to professional services or taking disciplinary action. A note of caution: as an employer, the focus of any action needs to be work-related, limited to providing practical support, taking steps to ensure the workplace is safe, and referring employees on to professional sources of help.
Four ways employers can support people in the workplace experiencing domestic and family violence.
1. Make gender equality your goal
The link between gender inequality and domestic violence is unequivocal. Employers who work to embed equality in their workplaces will be improving the lives of women who work for them and contributing to the change in social attitudes that is needed for violence against women and children to be stopped. Develop and implement a gender equality strategy to ensure your workplace is free from discrimination, that women have equal opportunities to participate and progress, that there are no gender pay gaps in your remuneration structures, and that flexible working arrangements and support for people with caring responsibilities are workplace norms.
2. Embed acknowledgement and response activities in policies and enterprise agreements.
Develop and communicate widely policies about how to support people in the workplace who are experiencing domestic and family violence. These should include clear roles and responsibilities for managers and senior leaders to support people in these circumstances. Policies should also specify how employees who perpetrate violence or abuse in the workplace are dealt with, linking in to bullying and harassment policies and procedures. Policies should include practical steps such as who to contact and what to do under different circumstances. Policies and enterprise agreements should include details of domestic and family violence leave provisions, creation of flexible working arrangements, and access to psychological services.
The first point of contact when someone is experiencing issues in the workplace is usually an appointed harassment and discrimination officer. Those designated people can be trained to specifically manage situations involving a person in the workplace who discloses they are experiencing domestic and family violence. Ensuring that harassment and discrimination officers can respond in the most effective ways possible is key to providing support.
In addition, all employees should have some level of training on how to appropriately support and work with people who are experiencing domestic and family violence. Managers and leaders should have more comprehensive training that focuses on how leaders in an organisation can engage in conversations about domestic and family violence and how to effectively and confidently manage situations involving victims, survivors or perpetrators.
Technology that is available in modern workplaces can be used to perpetrate domestic and family violence. It is important that employers have a clear, concise and well-known policy on the appropriate use of information and communication technology that includes penalties for misuse, and specific information about misuse in perpetrating domestic and family violence.
Domestic and family violence is not only a personal or private matter; its prevalence and cost make it a whole-of-society issue. Workplaces can be impacted through absenteeism and loss of productivity, as well as potential threats to workplace health and safety. People who are experiencing domestic and family violence can be supported through workplace mechanisms, including policies and enterprise agreements that include specific provisions, formalised leave and access to flexible working conditions. Employers can also help to reduce violence against women and children in our society by making gender equality a norm, training staff and leaders to effectively respond to colleagues who may be experiencing domestic and family violence, and ensuring that all employees are held accountable for their appropriate use of an organisation’s technology.
About The Agenda Agency
The Agenda Agency is a boutique consulting firm specialising in corporate and diversity strategy. If you'd like to discuss how we might be able to transform your workplace please contact us via https://theagendaagency.com/enquire/
 NSW Family & Community Services http://www.community.nsw.gov.au/parents,-carers-and-families/domestic-and-family-violence
 NSW Government Office for Women “It Stops Here”.
 Australian Human Rights Commission. Fact Sheet: Domestic and family violence – a workplace issue, a discrimination issue.