Managing risk

Domestic violence: what can employers do?

While many people assume domestic violence is physical or sexual abuse, the truth is domestic violence can include many other types of abuse.

Last updated: 17 May 2022

Verbal, psychological, emotional, financial and cyber – these are just a few of the different types of domestic violence. What takes place behind closed doors can have repercussions in the workplace, particularly with absenteeism, disengagement and productivity.

In NSW alone, there are about 2,500 reports to the police on a monthly basis however these figures of domestic violence grossly misrepresent actual incidents due to under-reporting. It’s believed only 40% of actual incidents are reported (NSW Council of Social Service, 2020). 

What would you do if the perpetrator visits the workplace, tries to contact your employee at work via phone or email, or worse still – both the perpetrator and victim happen to be your employees. As an employer – what are your obligations?

Domestic violence awareness training

An employee who is experiencing or perpetrating domestic violence may be able to hide all tell-tale signs. With awareness training you can recognise these, but it can also help you: 

  • understand how domestic violence impacts the workplace, employees and the reason why it is often hard to leave the situation 
  • ensure a safe workplace by meeting your legal obligations and entitlements for victims
  • identify any risks at work  
  • respond to employees who disclose they are victims
  • support employees to maintain their job and productivity while dealing with the situation
  • manage confidentiality, privacy and information systems to protect employees, including perpetrators, and
  • refer employees to external specialist assistance.

Domestic violence leave and privacy

Following amendments to the Fair Work Act 2009, all full-time, part-time and casual employees are entitled to five days’ unpaid family and domestic violence leave per year. This means as an employer you are legally obliged to allow employees time off, but in doing so you need to ensure their privacy is protected.

In a recent development, the full bench of the FWC is now advocating the award entitlement for family and domestic leave to be 10 days of paid leave and is seeking the federal government’s position to update the National Employment Standards as such. For victims, having the extra time to make arrangements without financial loss can make a big difference in their recovery phase.

A privacy breach can easily occur when an employee’s personal information is shared, for instance when notifying payroll or a manager that an employee is taking unpaid domestic violence leave or when there are concerns about the employee’s safety. The general rule for sharing such information is to obtain the employee’s consent before doing so and only share on a need-to-know basis. 

Safety measures to implement

There are many ways you can ensure the safety of your employee. Here are the main considerations. 

  • If applicable update security for entry to the workplace such as keys, passes. 
  • With the employee’s permission, alert your front desk if there are any orders such as AVOs and where possible provide the name and photos of the perpetrator. 
  • Send a reminder to all your staff not to divulge personal information about co-workers to anyone asking questions. This includes employee movements, such as whether in the office, or working hours. 
  • Propose changes to hours being worked or location to assist the employee.
  • Agree on a secure means of contact should the employee be absent from work. 
  • If your workplace does not have an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) or the program doesn’t have the necessary resources to help support domestic violence cases, assist the employee to find support. 

Managing perpetrators of domestic violence

Unless you decide to implement a zero-tolerance policy, finding a one-size-fits-all approach to managing perpetrators of domestic violence won’t be straightforward. You will need to consider factors such as the employee’s role, your organisation and the impacts to your workplace, including the business reputation, employee performance and the safety and wellbeing of other employees.

Another consideration is at what point you will need to implement disciplinary measures, for instance will you wait until it becomes obvious that the actions of the perpetrator is having a detrimental effect on their ability to perform at work?

Whatever your stance, it’s advisable for employers to consult with specialists in family violence and employment law to understand all the risks and the best way to respond. 

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