Does your workplace ignore domestic violence? By Hannah Dixon on 24 November 2016 In the lead up to White Ribbon Day, workplaces are being urged to not turn a blind eye to domestic violence and rethink it as a workplace issue. Though domestic violence has often been thought of as a private issue – something dealt with behind closed doors – there are a number of reasons to think differently. A 2015 report by PricewaterhouseCoopers estimates that violence against women costs Australia $21.7 billion a year, the brunt of this cost beared by victims. An issue with large impacts on the community can easily bleed beyond the personal into work life, clinical services director for AccessEAP Marcela Slepica argues. “There has been increasing evidence to support the idea that domestic violence is a workplace issue, particularly following the ABS results in the Personal Safety Survey, which revealed that nearly two thirds of women who experienced physical assault were in paid employment and that 12 per cent of women had experienced physical assault by a male perpetrator at their workplace,” Slepica says More than just a workplace issue, domestic violence has a link to health and safety in the workplace, impacting not just on the safety and mental health of individual workers and their teams but also playing a key role in whether a woman will leave an abusive partner. “Given work plays a key role in assisting individuals to maintain financial security, a sense of identity and self-esteem, structure and crucial social connections, the effect domestic violence could have on workplace health and safety is significant,” Slepica says. “Work can be a place of safety, where victims can experience good self-esteem, a sense of achievement, social connection, support and financial stability, often giving a victim the courage to leave their abusive relationship. “Social isolation and poverty are some of the greatest risk factors for women in particular, so if long-term strategies or plans can be incorporated into workplace domestic violence policies, the potential benefits for individuals of domestic violence are enormous.” What can I do? There are a number of actions employers can take in order to address domestic violence, however Slepica notes that developing a domestic violence policy and awareness plan can be a key step. “Domestic violence policies are a good place to start to ensure all employees receive the support they need and are able to maintain paid employment,” she says. “It is important individuals of domestic violence continue to engage in their work and with their colleagues, while accessing the support they need. “Some considerations workplaces and managers should have in place include: provision for access to special leave arrangements to attend medical, counselling and legal appointments awareness of external advice providers, such as the Domestic Violence Line and Employee Assistance Program access and providing basic training and awareness on how to engage with employees who are experiencing domestic violence or who to refer employees to for support.” Slepica adds that employers have a duty of care to identify if there is someone exposed to domestic violence and “should have awareness of the concerns and learn to recognise, respond and refer. “For example, employers should look for changes and patterns of behaviour that are unusual or concerning, such as being late regularly, making lots of phone calls and hyperawareness. Employers should express concern and if an employee discloses, direct them to external advice providers, such as the Domestic Violence Line.” Tread carefully If an employer does have concerns that a worker may be experiencing domestic violence it is important to tread carefully, treat the case with sensitivity and confidentiality and ensure they feel supported. “It is important not to judge the employee for the decisions they make. About 35 per cent of women currently experiencing violence have left and returned at least once, 57 per cent of women who experienced violence from a previous partner left and returned at least once and six per cent of women who experienced violence left and returned six or more times,” Slepica says. White Ribbon Day offers an opportunity to discuss these issues with your workforce and think about what your organisation can do to address domestic violence. “White Ribbon Day is not only related to domestic violence, it is about all violence against women. It is important we all play a role on fighting violence. It is not private or personal and saying it’s not my business does not help the victims,” Slepica says. This Friday, November 25, is the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women (IDEVAW) or White Ribbon Day.