In Australia, a woman is killed every 9 days – and a man every 29 days – by a current or former partner. The perpetrators are often employed, so what role can employers play to be part of the solution?
This article discusses domestic and family violence and may be triggering or distressing to some readers. If you’re in a position where you need support, you can call 1800RESPECT (1800 737 732) or visit Services Australia for more information.
As Australia has woken up to the scale of domestic and family violence in our country, thanks to the tireless efforts of many advocates, workplaces have made large strides in being able to support people who have experienced it.
Amid reports that domestic violence has surged during COVID-related lockdowns and warnings that employers should be assessing all the safety risks to at-home workers, a new resource has been launched with an aim of broadening the interventions around family and domestic violence.
Coming at the issue from all angles
Any comprehensive workplace response to domestic and family violence should also include responses to employees who engage in such behaviours, says a group of major employers and key advocates, led by gender equality advocate and Male Champions of Change founder Elizabeth Broderick.
Broderick says the topic has not been part of the battle against domestic and family violence to date but that this needs to change. The next step is for workplaces to balance accountability and support for employees who perpetrate violence against their family, while ensuring the safety of those experiencing it remains the main priority.
“It’s complicated territory, but all organisations should be prepared. Working with specialists in the field, we’ve developed an evidence-informed resource to guide organisational responses,” Broderick says.
That resource, the Employees who use domestic & family violence: A workplace response handbook, is aimed at being part of a whole-of-community response to the issue.
While the overarching objective of the resource is the safety of people affected by domestic and family violence and any response must place them first, workplaces should be prepared to have a conversation with perpetrators and encourage those employees to access specialist referral services, such as No to Violence, which work with those who use violence to change their abusive and violent behaviours.
Having the tough conversation
“We know this is a challenging and sensitive area for employers, but they must play their part by encouraging employees who use domestic and family violence to seek help, and to support people to feel able to change their behaviour and own the action required to do this, along with ensuring there are appropriate consequences when their behaviour impacts on workplaces,” says Broderick.
There are challenges associated with this. There is no one-size-fits-all approach available and identifying whether someone is using domestic or family violence is not straightforward.
“People who use domestic and family violence rarely self-disclose or seek help at work, and when they do it is usually because they need to attend court or an appointment related to their use of violence and abuse,” says Broderick.
Other signs may come from poor performance, extended periods of leave or distraction at work. They may also continue abusive behaviours towards their partners and families while at work, usually through email, phone or texts.
Worryingly, research shows often someone the perpetrator worked with knew about their violence tendencies and ‘covered’ for them while they engaged in this behaviour. This is exactly why HR needs to take the lead in having proactive conversations about family and domestic violence in the workplace. It needs to be clear at all levels of your workplace’s culture that this behaviour won’t be tolerated, and bystanders need to feel safe to speak up if they suspect their colleague is engaging in violent behaviours.
The first place to start is to develop a culture where the drivers of gender equality are understood and the workplace is committed to communicating their approach. It is not enough to leave it to the HR department alone to sort out; the communication needs to come from the top and trickle down to every single person in the organisation.
That’s not to say these conversations will be easy. You can almost guarantee they won’t be, which is why it’s important to take the time to understand what referral pathways are available and how they can help, says Broderick.
“There is an army of experts out there ready to help,” she says.
The handbook includes helpful resources, such as:
- principles to underpin organisational approaches to the issue
- guidance on managing situations where an employee has (or is alleged to have) used domestic and family violence
- legal obligations for employers
- a sample policy and communications which leaders can adopt or adapt for their own organisations.
Download your free copy of the handbook to find out more.