Thanks to public campaigns, domestic violence is being increasingly recognised as a serious problem in Australia, damaging our society both socially and economically. It is estimated that the cost of addressing and dealing with domestic violence reaches $13.6 billion per year.

How much of this cost is borne by employers? The Australian Bureau of Statistics shows that roughly 800,000 women in the Australian workforce are either currently experiencing domestic violence, or have experienced it in the past. And that’s not even accounting for the significant number of male victims. Supporting your employees through domestic violence is costly, but failing to do so could be even more expensive.

What is domestic violence?

The definition of domestic violence varies – some confine it to intimate partner violence, while others recognise violence committed between family members in general. Other definitions may include violence between people who live together but are unrelated. Indigenous populations often prefer the term “family violence” as it better reflects the relationships with their kin, including extended familial relationships and care structures.

Whoever the perpetrator, victims of domestic violence experience significant impacts upon their physical and mental health. In the workforce, this means a detrimental impact on productivity, attendance and resources. Domestic violence is a unique phenomenon in that it spans cultural, economic and social divisions and is not confined to any particular demographic, so employers must be alert to the signs from any of their employees.

What do I need to do as an employer?

Be supportive, and react to their needs. Encourage your workforce to speak to you or a manager if they are experiencing problems such as domestic violence, and ensure that such issues will be dealt with confidentially.

If an employee does confide in you that they are a victim of domestic violence, act with sensitivity but ensure that you understand what they are asking of you. You are not a therapist or a counsellor, and you do not have to pretend to be one. All you can do is listen patiently and offer support where possible.

The employee may wish to simply make you aware of the issue, or they may have a specific request in mind – perhaps a couple of days of leave to attend court or move house, or acceptance that occasionally they may be a few minutes late to work. Discuss their needs, both long term and short term, and find a solution which works for both of you. Offer an EAP if you have one, or otherwise encourage them to speak to you if they have any concerns.

Flexible working arrangements

An employee who is experiencing violence from a member of their family, or is providing care or support to a member of their immediate family or household who is experiencing domestic violence, has a right to make a request for flexible working arrangements.

If such a request is made, you must consider the request and can only refuse on reasonable business grounds. We recommend that you carefully consider the needs of the business and the employee, and attempt to accommodate their request if possible.

Domestic violence leave

Employees do not have an automatic right to domestic violence leave. While offering such leave is becoming increasingly common in enterprise agreements or company policies, it is not currently a statutory entitlement. If you do not offer domestic violence leave, employees may still be able to take time away from work by utilising their annual leave, long service leave, or in some particular circumstances, personal leave.

What are my next steps?

Think about how your company deals with domestic violence, and consider what entitlements your employees have access to. Do your policies reflect your business’ intentions? Do your employees understand their rights and obligations? A failure to communicate openly with your employees may exacerbate the damage done to victims of domestic violence, and increase the costs to the Australian economy.

For more information, clients should contact the HR Assured team. If you’d like more information about the benefits of becoming an HR Assured client contact us today for an informal chat.