Domestic violence policies are failing. Here’s why

Chloe Hava


written on September 15, 2017

While organisational policy is an important first step, a new survey reveals action is required in the form of training and programs in order to effectively address domestic violence.

Workplace Domestic violence policies are falling short, according to new research. While the intent to handle the issues exists in many organisations, it appears that currently policies are too broad, and so they aren’t working effectively.

A recent study conducted by the Australian HR Institute (AHRI) found that only 14 per cent of respondents reported their organisation provides training tailored to domestic violence related issues. Another area where organisations are falling behind is in providing training for managers in recognising the signs and symptoms of domestic violence in employees. Only 18 per cent of respondents had received training in this area.

The extent of the problem

According to figures presented by Our Watch, one in four Australian women have experienced a form of domestic violence. Domestic violence is the leading cause of death, disability and illness of Australian women aged 15-44. That’s a significant proportion of the workforce. Our Watch, states that “Most women who experience violence are in the paid workforce.”

Considering this, you have to wonder why more organisations don’t transform policy into action. It seems the issue might be that most don’t perceive domestic violence to be a workplace issue. There is evidence that organisations see it that way.

Not a workplace problem?

AHRI Chairman Peter Wilson says of the survey results, “It is interesting to note that a substantial minority of the HR respondents in this study report that they see domestic violence as a workplace problem with respect to productivity (34 per cent) and absenteeism (38 per cent).” The majority of organisations, however, were unsure about whether they felt domestic violence victims were less productive or took more time off.

Wilson continues, “I believe that until the evidence puts the connections beyond doubt, as it inevitably will, workplaces will be reluctant to put domestic violence practices in place that are well informed and effective.”

The business case for caring is already there, with the Australian Law Reform Commission estimating domestic violence will cost the Australian economy $15.6 billion in 2021-22.

How to transform policy into practice

UNSW Professor Karin Sanders who was the lead researcher on the project says that high level policy is irrelevant unless the managers who are in contact with the victims of domestic violence are appropriately trained. “They are the ones in closest contact with the victim who will actually make a difference to how an employee responds,” says Sanders.

According to Sanders, HR should be responsible for addressing the issue of funding for domestic violence programs with senior management.

Firstly, managers need to be up to date with what domestic violence looks like today. There are more and more male victims, and the violence is not always physical in nature. Breaking down the stereotypes and recognising sufferers is the beginning of the process.

Following that, there should be case management and coaching and counselling within the organisation. Supervisors should also be aware of the services that Employee Assistance Programs provide, as well as external counselling services. Managers need to be abreast of the services out there for victims and point them in the right direction, says Sanders.

In terms domestic violence leave, Sanders says this should vary per employee. “Some victims may need to take leave and others feel the need to continue and have the stability of the work context and have the option to be able to talk to colleagues and optimally, their supervisor,” she says.

Finally, Sanders maintains that training should be ongoing and take place every couple of years, to remain up to date with current research on best practice.

Learn more about organisational domestic violence policies and programs at AHRI’s Inclusion and Diversity Conferences in Canberra on 26 October and Melbourne on 2 November. Register online.

Don’t miss out on more great content like this.


One thought on “Domestic violence policies are failing. Here’s why

  1. Curious (or perhaps not) how a broader community issue (despite the focus on the workplace) such as the one above, is once again, bending towards the enticingly hot topic of the gruelling plight of women in our modern world. Once again, we find an article (thanks even so to the author for her work) which could certainly be potentially relevant, but is nonetheless disturbingly one-sided in it’s coverage of the impact of domestic violence, which surely would involve disputes, upheaval, and general trauma, which after all, could apply equally to men as it would to women … would it not? Why are so many facts accorded to women above and not to male victims (which understandably being from the Our Watch source has simply followed the same trend to disturbingly under-represent the alarming destructiveness that also exists in many female to male domestic living interactions)?

    It is estimated that in the mix of domestic violence in the Australian community at least up to a quarter of men are victims (similar figures and higher exist abroad). This does not take into account Emotional/psychological violence which Australian men are so good at not dealing with, never-mind the obvious lack of reporting violence towards them from women (significantly more so than the lack of woman reporting men out of shame). Thus, if we include psychological trauma, we are surely most likely dealing with a “level playing field”.

    Nevertheless, mental abuse aside, according to the ABS’ Personal Safety Survey (PSS) by Australia’s National Research Organisation for Women’s Safety, about 694,100 men reported experiencing at least one incident of violence by a female partner since the age of 15.

    Let’s make this more obviously a community issue at hand – not a gender one.

To comment on this article please provide your name and email address. Your email address will not be available publicly.