​Standing up against domestic violence


​Standing up against domestic violence

When an employee finds themselves in a domestic violence situation its everyone’s problem. How do you step up to ensure you’re part of the solution?


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When an employee finds themselves in a domestic violence situation its everyone’s problem. How do you step up to ensure you’re part of the solution?

Sue has turned up to work with bruises on her arms and is clearly distraught. Her partner has started phoning half a dozen or more times a day, often reducing her to tears, and he has been seen shoving her in the carpark behind your premises. Several of her co-workers have reported their concerns, but everyone is at a loss to know how to ask if she’s ok.
While domestic violence often happens out of sight, it can have a huge impact in the workplace, decreasing staff productivity and morale, and increasing absenteeism and job turnover. The Our Watch website estimates that violence against women costs Australian employers an estimated $1.3 billion each year. Around two-thirds of the women who experience violence at home, around 800,000, are in the paid workforce.
But it’s not all negative: not only does work offer a welcome respite for many women, maintaining employment is often a key factor in ensuring they have the financial independence to escape a violent relationship.
Growing public recognition around the once-hidden impact of domestic violence, driven by high profile cases and campaigns such as the White Ribbon campaign, have helped to focus attention on the role employers play in helping employees in violent situations.
While many employers have policies dealing with their response to domestic violence, the Fair Work Commission recently moved to clarify the situation by ruling that a model clause entitling all employees (including casuals) to five days of unpaid family and domestic violence (FDV) leave, be included in all 122 modern awards by 2019. 

The gift of time

“Up to five days leave per year, which doesn’t accumulate, will be made available to all employees including casuals, who are affected by family or domestic violence,” explains Luis Izzo, Managing Director – Sydney Workplace, Australian Business Lawyers & Advisors. “This leave could be used to deal with matters such as medical or court appointments, or to organise legal affairs.”
The introduction of FDV Leave is unlikely to have much of an impact on most workplaces, he adds. Most employers with an employee who is experiencing family and domestic violence genuinely want to provide support.
“Our experience has been that, at a human level, employers have responded appropriately and practically when it’s come up in the past,” he says.
The critical point to make for employers now, Izzo stresses, is that requests for leave arising out of a violent situation should not be processed as sick leave unless they are genuinely ill, injured or mentally distressed.

“In the past, there’s been a tendency for employees to be silent about it, taking personal leave or sick leave to deal with this type of issue,” he says. “But the reality is that going to court or counselling appointments is not allowed or covered under leave provisions at present, so employers who suggest this are technically in breach of the Fair Work Act.
“The Commission’s decision confirms that you can’t take personal sick leave unless you are actually unfit to work because of a physical or mental injury.” 

Steps for a safer workplace

There are a number of strategies employers can adopt to help reduce the risk and fear associated with domestic violence, says White Ribbon Ambassador Jen Armstrong, who also sits on the NSW Government’s Domestic and Family Violence Corporate Leadership Group.
“Obviously it’s going to depend on the size and capacity of the business, and the type of work that the person does,” she adds. “But most of these things don’t have to involve spending money; it’s just putting more thought into how you do some things.”
If an employee is being hassled at work, employers may need to consider relocating the staff member’s area of work to a more secure location, and put in place measures to avoid situations where that person may be alone in the workplace.
“Perhaps you can make sure that the person is travelling during peak times or that they begin and end work with a colleague who travels in the same direction,” she says.
Other measures include checking with staff members before using their name or image on your company’s website, or in social media; not confirming their presence in the office over the phone, and not handing out employees’ mobile phone numbers.
“Get people in the habit of taking a message, and getting the staff member to call them back, rather than handing out direct phone numbers,” she says.
White Ribbon offers workplace training which is useful, she adds. 

Maintaining boundaries 

Don’t be tempted to try to solve an employee’s problems, or become their counsellor, adds Armstrong. There are lots of services and resources available to help.
“Suggest the staff member contacts someone trained to deal with it, and make space for them to do that,” she says.
Luis Izzo agrees: “Giving them space, cutting them a break, is often the most helpful thing you can do. You also need to make sure that their confidentiality is respected.” And don’t be afraid to call the police if your workplace security is breached.
“The over-arching message to employers is to take a common sense approach,” Izzo says. “The new leave provisions should not come as any huge surprise or new burden.”

Author & disclosure

This article was first published by the NSW Business Chamber, which owns both WorkplaceInfo and Australian Business Lawyers & Advisors
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