In acknowledgement of the UN International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, we look at ways employers can address domestic violence in the workplace.
Domestic violence is a rampant issue in Australia. The Australian Bureau of Statistics says 2.2 million Australians have experienced physical and/or sexual violence at the hands of a partner, while 3.6 million have experienced emotional abuse.
It may begin in the home, but domestic violence has the capacity to pervade all aspects of a victim's life, including the workplace. According to the National Council to Reduce Violence Against Women and Their Children, the cost of domestic violence to the Australian economy is projected to hit $15.6 billion between 2021 and 2022. And that's only the financial consideration. Concerns for the mental health and safety of victims are just as severe.
All Australians have a responsibility to address domestic violence, but surveys by White Ribbon Australian have shown that only 20 percent of employees feel comfortable helping a colleague who is experiencing domestic violence. Therefore, the employer plays a crucial role in recognising and addressing cases of domestic violence when symptoms arise.
"Work can often become a sanctuary away from abuse and as an employer it’s important to encourage a working environment that is safe for employees," says Marcela Slepica, clinical director for employee assistance program provider AccessEAP.
"By creating a non-judgmental space where victims feel confident to talk about their experiences, it can help raise awareness and make sure that someone is getting the help they deserve."
The organisation says employers should develop domestic violence policies around the following three aspects:
Recognising signs of domestic violence is the first step in addressing it. Often, a victim's behaviour patterns will change. Each case is unique, but the Domestic Violence Resource Centre Victoria lists a range of behaviours employers should look out for:
- They are hesitant to leave the workplace alone or tend to leave late
- They receive a high amount of personal calls that seem to make them uncomfortable
- They develop a loss of concentration, low self-esteem and anxiety
- They find it difficult to maintain regular work hours, and
- They have physical or mental injuries which mean they cannot work, even if they don't have sick leave to cover the time off.
In some cases, victims will take the courageous step of sharing their experience with their employer. In this case, it is critical that employers respond in an appropriate and supportive manner. Listen without judgement. Be supportive, encouraging, open and honest. Discuss with the employee actions that can be taken to ensure they feel safe in the workplace – screening calls, arranging safer parking etc.
In 2012, the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) Congress endorsed the following principles in the Work, Life, Family policy, with the goal of better supporting victims of domestic violence:
- 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.
Other external supports may be required, and employers must be willing to highlight this. Employees should be aware of available support services, including employee assistance programs. Employers can also refer employees to an expert domestic violence service for crisis counselling, information on crisis care facilities and refuges, information on domestic violence orders and court support and information on longer term counselling services.
If you have experienced domestic violence, call:
1800RESPECT 1800 737 732
Lifeline 13 11 14
Relationships Australia 1300 364 277
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