Domestic violence: What's HR's responsibility?

'Victims of abuse can still be subject to unbelievable pressures when they reach the office'

Domestic violence: What's HR's responsibility?

Ahead of the UN International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women on 25th November, it’s important to consider the role employers have to play when addressing domestic violence and how it affects the workplace.

As a national welfare issue, domestic and family violence not only affects the victim in their personal lives, but in their professional life too.

Marcela Slepica, Clinical Director AccessEAP, acknowledges the role employers and work play in supporting women dealing with this issue.

“Domestic violence has very real impacts on employees and the workplace,” said Slepica. 

“For the victim, health and economic costs can increase and mental health can deteriorate. For organisations, this can lead to lower productivity, efficiency, staff retention rates and motivation, as well as higher absenteeism.”

What’s more, some of these employees’ suffering doesn’t end once they leave the house.

“Victims of abuse can still be subject to unbelievable pressures when they reach the office, such as email and phone harassment, with partners trying to force them to resign or get fired. In extreme cases, they may even be targeted by their abuser at their place of work,” said Slepica.

“This type of behaviour then effects the workforce as a whole, with staff exposed to the abuse in person.”

Many organisations recognise it is important and relevant to have a Domestic Violence policy in place to support employees, and to provide training to managers and their staff about how to respond and how to offer support.

 “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,” added Slepica.

“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.”

AccessEAP advises the following tips in developing domestic violence policies with training based on three elements; Recognise, Respond, Refer.

When a woman is experiencing domestic violence, it is likely that her patterns of behaviour will change. Managers should remain connected to their team to be able to recognise any changes. Some behaviours to look out for may include:

  • Frequently arriving to work very early or very late
  • Frequent personal phone calls that leave the employee distressed

If someone has taken the difficult step of sharing their experience of violence or abuse, it is vital to respond in an appropriate and supportive manner. Firstly, you should believe the person and listen without judging. Be supportive, encouraging, open and honest. There are also some practical considerations which will help make the person feel safer and more supported. Discuss with an employee what might make them feel safe at work e.g. screening calls, changing email address, priority or safe parking.

  • Screen their phone calls or install caller ID on their phone
  • Change their email address and remove their details from the organisation’s directories
  • Arrange for priority parking close to the building entrance and organise for them to be accompanied to and from their car
  • Ensure employee’s workstation is not easily accessible for someone entering from outside

While provisions such as additional special leave, financial assistance and security measures will go a long way towards supporting women to remain in the workplace, other external supports may also be required. Ensure your employees are aware of appropriate support services which include their Employer Assistance Program. 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.

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