Domestic violence: What if your employee is a perpetrator?

by Chloe Taylor05 Nov 2014
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.


  • by WBNIxon 5/11/2014 12:58:08 PM

    You identified a very relevant and important issue unfortunately your article does not really address how organizations should deal with perpetrators. I am sure we all can agree that support should be given to victims to help them as much as possible. However, it is my view that unless we start to give serious attention to helping perpetrators change their behavior their will not be any meaningful progress on this issue. We will forever be stuck in a perpetual cycle of victims. Accordingly, perpetrators should be confronted with the fact their behavior is wrong and inappropriate and then required to take part in a development program that will help them through the journey to change their ways. Perpetrators have to earn a living so employers can be a powerful force in causing change to happen.

  • by kevin 5/11/2014 1:07:57 PM

    OMG Mental Illness and now Domestic Violence. Just what do we want our workplaces to become. Just these too very sensitive issues would stretch the capacity and capability of our supervisors and managers to respond to such matters effectively. We appear to be quickly approaching a point where you can come to work when you want to and when you come bring all your baggage and we will do the best we can to resolve all of your life problems. I know there are some out there who would call me names for making such a statement but one has to ask, when are the demands on the employer going to stop because at the present they seem to know no bounds.

  • by Catherine Cahill 6/11/2014 9:03:28 AM

    Employers cannot take responsibility for the destructive behaviours of the employees outside of work hours. They have no legal grounds to do so, and as Kevin said, no time or resources to effectively address such complex issues.

    When out of hours behaviour impacts on work performance, then it is the work performance that needs to be addressed.

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