What is domestic violence and how prevalent is it?
Domestic violence is the physical, sexual, psychological, emotional, verbal and financial abuse that occurs in family, domestic or intimate relationships. iHR Australia’s Consulting Psychologist Dr Leigh Hodder says “the behaviours associated with domestic violence lead to erosion of confidence, independence and access to support networks causing long-term and significant harm to those who experience it”.
Approximately 1 in 4 women and around 1 in 13 men have experienced domestic violence since the age of 15 in Australia (ABS, 2016). These rates of violence reflect the seriousness of the problem of domestic and family violence and the likelihood that managers and employees may be faced with staff/colleagues affected by these forms of violence.
What are the impacts of domestic violence on the workplace?
Issues affecting employees in their private life often intrude into the workplace. It has been reported that 19% of Australian workers who had experienced domestic violence reported the harassment continued at their workplace (ABS, 2011). The impact on workplaces is also significant, with the annual cost to employers by 2021/2022 projected to be $235 million (AHRC, 2014). Common costs and impacts affecting employees and the workplace include decreased performance and productivity, and increased absenteeism and presenteeism.
What are the indicators?
Potential indicators (when forming a pattern) that an employee or colleague may be experiencing domestic violence include, but are not limited to:
- Arriving to work late or very early
- Decreased concentration, performance and productivity
- Tension around receiving repeated personal phone calls
- Repeated discussion of marital or relationship problems
- Bruises, chronic headaches, abdominal pains, muscle aches
- Signs of fear, anxiety, depression
What can workplaces do to support employees experiencing domestic and family violence?
The Commonwealth Government’s Parliamentary Committee into Domestic Violence in Australia (2015) found that whilst many victims of domestic violence can find it hard to hold down a job because of the need to take time off work, steady employment played a major role in helping because it could provide economic independence, a support network and the self-esteem derived from performing a valued role.
Whilst domestic abuse is not currently a ground of discrimination under Australian legislation, directors and managers would be fulfilling a duty of care to their employees by providing a safe workplace. 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:
- 94% of employees agree employers should take a leadership role in educating their workforce about respectful relationships between men and women (White Ribbon, 2018). Leaders should begin a conversation about how domestic and family violence is an issue that affects the workplace and that employees should feel confident that disclosing a violent situation will not result in adverse consequences for them or their employment.
- Establish clear policies and procedures about safe workplaces free from harassment and bullying as well as those providing guidelines on supporting victims and survivors of domestic and family violence. Ensure these are clearly communicated to all staff.
- All employers must also start planning now for the introduction of compulsory unpaid Family and Domestic Violence (FDV) Leave following the Fair Work Commission’s ruling last week to provisionally include a model domestic violence leave clause into Modern Awards. All except three of the Awards will allow for 5 days unpaid leave for employees experiencing family and domestic violence if they need to “do something to deal with the impact of that violence and it is impractical for them to do it outside their ordinary hours of work” (Fairwork Commission, 2018).
- Ensure adequate support is provided for affected employees by way of discussion of their requirements in both the short and long term as well as by checking in with the affected employee regularly.
- Ensure employees are aware of appropriate support services including the Employee Assistance Program.
- If required, develop a safety plan.
Dr Hodder concludes that domestic violence “occurs across all layers of our society and thrives when good people fail to act on their suspicions”.
Australian Bureau of Statistics, Personal Safety Survey 2016 http://www.abs.gov.au/ausstats/abs@.nsf/mf/4906.0
Australian Bureau of Statistics, National Domestic Violence and Workplace Survey, 2011 http://www.abs.gov.au/ausstats/abs@.nsf/Lookup/4533.0Main+Features472013
Domestic Violence in Australia, Commonwealth of Australia, 2015 https://www.aph.gov.au/Parliamentary_Business/Committees/Senate/Finance_and_Public_Administration/Domestic_Violence/Report
Factsheet: Domestic and Family Violence – a workplace issue, a discrimination issue, Australian Human Rights Commission, 2014 https://www.humanrights.gov.au/sites/default/files/13_10_31_DV_as_a_workplace_issue_factsheet_FINAL6.pdf
White Ribbon Australia, Domestic Violence Statistics, 2018