The UN has reported that domestic violence against women, is “one of the most serious, life threatening and widespread violations of human rights globally.” And it’s happening right here in Australia, on a frightening scale. The Australian Bureau of Statistics has disclosed a heartbreaking 40.8% of women will have experienced a form of violence since the age of 15.
First and foremost, the consequences of domestic violence are a human issue. The personal impacts are devastating, with one Australian woman per week expected to die as a result of family and domestic violence. However, domestic violence also has flow-on effects across business sectors and the community, with the ABS reporting 55-70% of women who have (or continue to) experience domestic violence are employed. Australian businesses are estimated to feel the financial effects of around $175 million annually through direct and indirect costs of violence.
Australian health and safety laws exist to ensure that employees have the right to a safe work environment. So what about when that workplace is now at home?
Organisations are increasingly adopting family and domestic violence policies (78% of WORK180’s Australian Endorsed Employers have a policy) and are putting the safety and wellbeing of staff at the forefront.
BHP as an example, have aligned their guidelines to best practice. Fiona Vines, Head of Inclusion and Diversity at BHP, notes that,
“Our support is based on three core principles and works hand-in-hand with our inclusion and diversity strategy — it’s open to all employees and contractors regardless of gender, sexuality or location; it extends beyond paid leave to comprehensively support our people who seek a life free from violence and its effects; and it’s inclusive and simple to access.”
Post COVID-19, the new norm will be an increasingly distributed workforce, and with the Sydney Morning Herald reporting one in 10 Australian women in a relationship were experiencing violence during the pandemic, businesses will need to reimagine HR programs to reprioritize wellness and family and domestic violence policies into the future.
Why this is a workplace issue
Two thirds of Australian women who are experiencing family and domestic violence are employed, and one in five have reported the violence continues at work. Although not a new issue, there is a rising trend among Australian employers to adopt domestic violence policies, with the Workplace Gender Equality Agency indicating around 35% of employers nationally already have one in place.
For women affected by violence, the office can provide a critical escape from the perpetrator, and when workplaces are set up with the right policies and care networks to enable survivors to be heard and supported, it can help many who would otherwise struggle to continue their employment. This financial independence is also a critical factor in escaping violence. The companies who are able to successfully invest in the wellbeing of their employees will ultimately boost productivity and profitability, shaving recruitment and training costs and eventuating in longer-term financial gains.
What workplaces can do
Heidi Dickson, Group Manager Culture, Diversity and Social Inclusion from CIMIC Group led the rollout of a global family and domestic violence policy in 2019, which puts the safety of the individual first and foremost.
“Our focus on safety extends beyond the workplace with our global Group-wide commitment to provide support to our people and their families who may be experiencing family and domestic violence. We believe that our policy and program is a further step in helping us to foster an inclusive culture that advances equality and aids in the elimination of bullying, harassment and discrimination.”
Listening to survivors of violence and providing anonymity is a critical first step to developing an effective workplace policy. Employers like Global Vision Media have initiated anonymous approval through their EAP for domestic violence leave, so that the employee’s manager does not need to be involved. During COVID-19, the Canadian Women’s Foundation has even created a ‘signal for help’ to be used on video calls, recognizing that the pandemic has made it more difficult for those in danger to get support.
Knowing where to start to initiate a domestic violence policy can be overwhelming, but the UN has highlighted tips to support employees experiencing violence in their 2017 report Taking the first step: Workplace responses to domestic and family violence.
These include recommendations like:
- Listening to survivors of violence to help develop a business approach
- Liaising with violence-protection organizations to develop both short and long-term responses
- Providing flexible and paid domestic and family violence leave. Casual employees are often excluded from paid leave policies, however organizations like Programmed offer all casuals who have been with the company for more than six months (and work over 15 hours a week) access to family and domestic violence leave.
- Communicating support strategies on multiple platforms to employees, including endorsement from senior leaders
- Initiating training programs for both staff, as well as leaders who may be managing employees directly affected. This training should be available in both face-to-face and online modes.
- Providing financial support to cover immediate costs in relocating violence survivors
- Offering security to staff as they arrive and leave the building
- Surveying teams to measure awareness and effectiveness of the available support
It is also critical for workplaces to consider perpetrators of violence who may be in their workforce. At an organizational level, taking a vocal approach to gender equality and challenging gender stereotypes can help to break the cycle.
Other resources to help you develop workplace policies
- Watch the experts from MATE discuss ways of supporting employees in WORK180’s domestic violence webinar.
- Find out how to deal with family and domestic violence in the Fair Work Ombudsman employer guide.
- With more than 1,663 business leaders worldwide committing to promote gender equality through the principles, you can find a practical guide for businesses to empower women in the workplace by reading The Women’s Empowerment Principles.
Want a more in depth look at what our endorsed employers are doing to address domestic violence during the pandemic? Find more information here: Spotlight on Companies Working to Address Domestic Violence in the Workplace During COVID-19.
If you are someone affected by domestic violence, you can call Lifeline’s crisis support hotline (available 24/7) on 13 11 14, or you can text 0477 13 11 14.