Domestic Violence Leave Policies
Domestic violence is very much a workplace issue. Of the 1.4 million Australian women who are living in an abusive relationship, or have been so in the past about 800,000 are in the paid workforce. It also has a major economic impact on business. KPMG estimate that by 2021 domestic and family violence will cost Australian businesses $609 million annually.
Leading organisations are adopting a range of approaches including:
- Paid leave
- Policy statements
- Keep victims on the payroll
- Encouragement not discrimination
- Refer to the experts.
Domestic violence is a complex issue and while it is the leading cause of death and disability in women in Australia aged between 15-44 years, there are other reasons that someone may be seeking domestic violence leave, besides recovering from physical injuries. Victims may need time to attend to legal proceedings and organise police orders. They may need time off to relocate or establish new and safe homes or care for children. Allowing time off to attend counselling or other mental health support is also extremely valuable.
Thus additional paid leave, on top of standard entitlements is usually necessary. The ACTU is seeking an additional 10 days domestic violence leave be added to entitlements of modern national awards.
As the recent Male Champions of Change report, Playing our Part: Lessons Learned from Implementing Workplace Responses to Domestic and Family Violence found, paid leave is an effective intervention that provides a temporary safety net. Ideally it should be:
- 1. Paid: people experiencing violence maintain employment, connection to the workplace and financial security
- 2. Accessible: employees know paid leave is available and feel supported accessing it
- 3. Confidential: confidentiality is assured
- 4. Proof not too onerous: sensitive application.
The report also found that organisations have developed a paid leave solution to fit their context: Small organisations opted for a case-by-case approach whereas larger organisations developed leave provisions ranging from 10 to unlimited days.
While absenteeism is possibly the most obvious evidence of how domestic violence impacts the workplace, most victims of this abuse experience feelings of anxiety and distraction which can effect productivity and performance. Furthermore it is also common for the violence to infiltrate the workplace in the form of abusive phone calls and emails.
The Domestic Violence Workplace Rights and Entitlements Project (DVWREP) led by the Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) states that all policies relating to Domestic Violence should match and support standard workplace safety protocols and should balance the right of all personnel to a safe working environment with the need for a relaxed and accessible workplace.
The DVWREP Workplace Guide stresses that a policy addressing domestic violence should contain:
- A clear, plain English definition of domestic violence, with examples/case histories of how policy this affects the workplace. A clear statement that domestic violence is unacceptable at home and in the workplace.
- A clear statement of the employer’s commitment to the introduction and implementation of domestic violence workplace entitlements.
- A full explanation of the workplace entitlements covered by the domestic violence clauses.
- A clear indication of where and how staff can access detailed procedures regarding domestic violence and the workplace.
- In a culturally mixed workplace it is also important to ensure appropriate translations are available.
Keep victims on the payroll
Economic security is the single most important factor in whether a victim of domestic violence is able to withdraw from a dangerous situation,
Avoid suspending or terminating someone due to absenteeism, lateness, unreliability or general poor performance.
Adopt flexible work arrangements for employees to attend to matters arising from domestic, family and sexual violence;
Encouragement not discrimination
Victims of domestic violence need to be heard, acknowledged, believed and never questioned in a way that may infer blame of any kind.
There must be an assurance of a worker’s right to confidentiality and support when they disclose domestic violence.
Workplaces should build awareness of the problem of domestic violence and consistently embody policies of gender equality and respect for all. Policies and educational material should be easily and widely available.
In 2011 the Australian Human Rights Commission that domestic violence be recognised as a protected attribute, in federal anti-discrimination laws as well as in the Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth). Similar recommendations have also been made by the Australian Law Reform Commission and the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee.
As the recognition of domestic and family violence as a workplace issue grows and more employers step up to play their part in combatting this problem, we need to be more aware of the risks of discrimination related to the experience of domestic and family violence must also be obliterated. This includes:
- being denied leave or flexible work arrangements that would assist victims and survivors to attend to violence-related matters
- having employment terminated for reasons relating to the violence they are experiencing
- being transferred or demoted for reasons related to the violence.
Refer to the experts
Workplaces are generally not equipped to provide the specialist assistance that a victim of domestic violence may need. Therefore it is important to make appropriate referrals. Recommended actions:
Ensure that EAP providers are trained in domestic violence identification and response, and are able to appropriately refer to domestic violence services.
- Services should be able to provide advice on to appropriate accommodation, counselling, medical, legal and protective services
- 1800 RESPECT – The National Sexual Assault Domestic Family Violence Counselling Service is a good starting point
- Each state around Australia also has a quality support services which can be accessed by victims of domestic violence.