HR increasingly trained in domestic violence management

by Chloe Taylor18 Nov 2015
Last week, the Workplace Gender Equality Agency (WGEA) released data that revealed around a third of major private sector employers have a strategy in place to support employees experiencing family or domestic violence.

The WGEA’s 2014-15 dataset showed that 34.9% of employers had such a strategy or policy in place; an increase from last year’s 32.2%.

The report also revealed that the number of employers training their HR teams to support staff experiencing domestic violence had risen from 12.5% to 13.5%.

But what exactly should this training involve?

HC spoke to Jennifer Mullen, a senior executive for White Ribbon’s Programs Portfolio, who explained that statistically speaking one in five women will experience a form of harassment within the workplace, with one in three experiencing physical or sexual violence from someone they know in their broader life.

“The issue is very prevalent, and it’s also a workplace issue,” Mullen said. “The workplace can play a very positive role as a conduit for change.”

In a recent survey by White Ribbon, it was found that 94% of employees agree that their employers should be taking a leadership role around violence towards women.

Meanwhile, almost half (48%) of the respondents to a Victorian survey said that they had disclosed being a victim of domestic violence to their manager at work, but only 10% of those had found the response helpful.

“Most workplaces will at some stage employ a former or potential perpetrator as well as victims, and many employees will become bystanders at some point,” Mullen told HC.

Mullen advised that while many organisations might expect HR teams or managers to take personal responsibility for victims in the workplace, they only need to be trained on a basic level.  

“Disclosure is often a very traumatic experience – not just for those giving the information, but also for those receiving it,” she explained.

“On average, it takes victims five to seven attempts to disclose their situation to anyone, and if the first instance isn’t positive it reduces the likelihood of them disclosing it again. So it’s critical that managers can respond appropriately.”

Mullen emphasised that the important thing is that employers don’t expect their managers to be counsellors, but train them to recognise the issue, respond to it and refer the victim on to the appropriate services.

“The point where women choose to leave is the most dangerous time for them, so it is also critical that there are support services around during that time,” she added.

White ribbon also runs a workplace accreditation program, which is formalised and internationally recognised. The program provides organisations with a structured program to look at their policies and training and renew them where necessary, and supports organisations to be able to respond to violence against women that is occurring both inside and outside of the workplace.

“It is intended to help businesses build on their gender equality, anti-bullying and harassment and diversity initiatives, which will also help them in terms of becoming an employer of choice,” Mullen said.

According to Mullen, the benefits of the program include increased awareness, increased organisational knowledge and capability to address the issue, enhancing the capacity of the workplace to respond to the issue, and changing attitudes and behaviours that allow violence to occur in the first place.

“Organisations are required to meet 15 criteria that are set within three standards,” she told HC.

“Seven of those look at prevention and response, and another big focus is on leadership.

“Managers need to be equipped to deal with domestic violence, and employees need to reflect on their own language and behaviour. Employers should also think about how they can encourage respectful relationships in the workplace and also more broadly in their community.”

The success of the program is reflective of Australia finally taking action against domestic violence.

“Employers are now starting to recognise that domestic violence is an issue in terms of employee health and safety, productivity and broader community expectations – workplaces have the power to be conduits of social change,” Mullen said.

“This lies in their capacity to set the standard on zero-tolerance approaches to violence, and promoting gender equality and respectful relationships.”

There are 23 White Ribbon accredited workplaces so far, with 14 being accredited on Monday. White Ribbon is now working with roughly 130 organisations nationally.

“We have seen an increased demand, which really reflects employers’ increased awareness and desire to become agents of change,” said Mullen.

November 25 is the international day for the elimination of violence against women, which is White Ribbon day in Australia.


  • by Bernie Althofer 18/11/2015 1:07:45 PM

    Organisations may have implemented various support programs e.g. EAP/EAS and in some cases, additional support personnel may be present in the form of Peer Support Officers and/or Harassment Referral Officers. In some cases, the roles assigned to these personnel may include providing advice, guidance and support to aggrieved persons, alleged perpetrators and managers/supervisors.

    Organisations need to consider who is most likely to be the first point of call for any employee (regardless of their position in the organisation) and whether or not the person providing the advice etc has sufficient skills etc to provide appropriate advice etc. It might be that the support person does not have appropriate skills and adds to the angst of the person seeking advice. In some cases, there might be a blurring of the roles, and as the aggrieved or other person provides more information, the support person has to switch 'hats' continually.

    Experience suggests that some individuals will have taken advice or been provided with support and guidance for some considerable time before they reach HR. Suffice to say that attitudes towards domestic violence, and other counterproductive workplace behaviours can have a significant impact on the prevention, detection, reporting and resolution of such behaviours.

    It appears that the impact of domestic violence and other such behaviours has a flow on impact not only in a household but also the workplace. Issues such as lost time due to court appearances, absenteeism due to injury, presenteeism because a person still has to work but is really not in a good place mentally or physically, concerns about ongoing threats and potential for the escalation of previous incidents, downtime to seek counselling and support, and the responses of colleagues and co-workers are all issues that need to be managed. The question is "Should HR be the only ones trained in domestic violence management?"

    HR might be the delegated 'owners' of the organisational policies. However, line managers and supervisors and workers play a significant role in addressing the overall health and safety of those in the workplace. Given the potential for violence to be committed in a workplace (either physical or psychological), risk assessments should include domestic violence. Managers and workers need to be able to provide an appropriate and timely response to physical and pscyhological threats or acts caused through domestic violence.

    In the past there have been comments suggesting that managers should not take a role in responding to domestic violence. Having seen the impact of domestic violence in a fomer career, there is a flow on to workplaces. Unfortunately, in the past, there may have been a lack of knowledge or even willingness to understand and manage a person. As a result, actions taken against that person for 'poor performance' may have only resulted in increased negative feelings. One only has to 'map' the connections of who is involved to understand the magnitude of the problem, and then to understand why workplaces should be playing and increased role in supporting those involved in domestic violence.

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