Domestic violence: What if your employee is a perpetrator?

What action should you take if an employee is the perpetrator of domestic violence? HC investigates

Domestic violence can have a huge cost for businesses, due to resulting absenteeism and reduced productivity. It is estimated that a third of women are affected by domestic violence at some point in their lives, so many employers’ workforces will inevitably be affected.
Where does an employer stand if they suspect one of their employees to be the perpetrator of domestic violence?

“Suspecting and discovering are two different things,” said Matt Garrett, manager of Relationships Australia NSW. “The issue first has to come to the employer’s attention – this is difficult if it hasn’t been disclosed.”

Garrett told HC that the most important thing for employers to remember is that this issue needs to be dealt with maintaining high levels of confidentiality and sensitivity.

“The issue becomes more sensitive if the victim works in the same workplace,” he said. “It is not uncommon for partners to work in the same place, so it is important that confidentiality and a huge degree of sensitivity are maintained. Quite often people who raise issues of domestic violence don’t get a good response from their organisation, so it is important to know, as an employer, how to handle this.”

Most organisations have addressed issues of violence or aggression in their code of conduct, but it is difficult for employers to address behaviour which takes place outside of the workplace.

“Employers should partner with NGOs and organisations such as the White Ribbon organisation to develop a policy and education for their workplace,” advised Garrett.

“They should be alert to harassing or abusive phone calls and behaviour towards other staff members, which may help them to address such behaviour but not necessarily domestic violence.”

According to Garrett, employers should offer sensitivity and assistance to employees in any situation involving domestic violence.

“We believe employers have a responsibility to offer protection to the victim or the perpetrator,” he said.

He also highlighted the importance of employers acknowledging their responsibility to all employees – be they victims, perpetrators or colleagues of someone involved – to ensure that all staff are comfortable in their workplace.

“Organisations can no longer ignore domestic violence when its prevalence is so well known and there are so many resources to assist them if their employees are involved in any way – it is no longer possible to bury your head in the sand.”

As evidence of the growing recognition that the workplace does have a role to play in helping employees deal with domestic violence incidents, the ACTU has made an application to the FWC for the inclusion of domestic violence leave in modern awards. This is part of the modern award review process, underway now and due to close before the end of the first quarter of 2015. Employers and industry bodies are invited to make submissions or review proposed changes with the FWC.

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