Seven ways to bolster your workplace’s response to family and domestic violence.
Trigger warning: This article mentions domestic violence. If you, or someone you know, requires support you can contact 1800RESPECT (1800 737 732) or visit White Ribbon Australia.
Domestic violence is increasingly acknowledged as a workplace issue. But there remains a gap in the effective implementation of domestic violence policies in workplaces. Myths about domestic violence can distort policy implementation and misunderstandings about how best to support victims can lead to a loss of valuable employees.
Workplaces can be a place where domestic violence both occurs and a place to prevent its harms. In some countries, such as New Zealand, the important role of workplaces has been codified in legislation for paid domestic violence leave and flexible working arrangements. In many other countries, however, DV support is often unpaid or missing entirely.
Start with gender equality
While governments and workplaces are improving protections to safeguard and support victims of violence, these policies still fail to address the root cause of DV – gender inequality.
The United Nations recognises domestic violence as one of the most widespread, persistent and devastating human rights violations against women in our world today and a major barrier to achieving gender equality.
HR professionals can play a critical role in advancing gender equality in the workplace to better deliver on their policy commitment to support victims of violence.
New research recently published in the Journal of Industrial Relations offers practical ways that organisations can improve implementation of their DV policies.
Drawing on data from a survey of 518 New Zealand participants and interviews with 18 survivors of domestic violence affected by intimate partner stalking, we show how the development of domestic violence policy in workplaces can improve by focusing on gender equality outcomes.
Stories we collected from victims of violence highlight the many ways domestic violence impacts women’s experiences at work. These stories were important for challenging some of the common myths around domestic violence, which have informed implementation of workplace policy.
Jessica* told us the story of how life after leaving a violent relationship “became a nightmare”. For 2.5 years after ending the relationship, her abuser would show up at her house, go through her belongings and monitor her whereabouts. The continuing abuse meant she depleted all her savings to pay for a lawyer and struggled to go to work because of the stress.
In a different scenario, Sarah*, who also left an abusive relationship, felt compelled to disclose her circumstances to her employer after feeling scared when her abuser left a note on her car in a public car park where she caught the train to work. Her abuser also called and messaged her excessively during work hours. Her manager did not see it as a work-related matter.
The abuse that another survivor, Aroha*, experienced from her partner only started when the relationship ended. On one occasion, her abuser showed up to her workplace posing as a courier, an experience which left her feeling scared.
The role of HR professionals must be to walk alongside victims; supporting women throughout their journey.
What these stories show is that DV can occur anywhere and at any time – at work, in public places and online – not just in the home or during a relationship. As with other gender equality issues, such as the uneven distribution of unpaid labour, policies that fail to recognise how the home and the workplace are enmeshed can disproportionately impact women’s careers.
7 practical strategies to consider
Often domestic violence workplace policies are only framed around offering paid leave or flexible work arrangements to allow victims to leave their abusers. But the violence continues to impact women long after a relationship ‘ends’. The role of HR professionals must be to walk alongside victims; supporting women throughout their journey.
These insights around intimate partner stalking offer important opportunities to learn about how organisations can strengthen their domestic violence policies. We suggest you:
- Review existing organisational policy and provide training to staff, particularly line managers, to avoid seeing domestic violence as a ‘private’ issue that only occurs within the household.
- Recognise that violence happens at work too. Having a policy to deal with abusive behaviour, such as excessive calling during work hours or unwanted visits, is critical.
- Understand that supporting victims of violence is a long-term commitment. The shockwaves of violence can extend for years after a relationship has ended.
- Appreciate the value of paid leave and flexible work arrangements for women even after they have left an abusive relationship.
- Recognise in organisational policy that harm experienced may not only be physical, but can take many forms, including emotional and psychological abuse.
- Reconsider performance reviews. Domestic violence impacts victim’s capacity to perform well. Extra support is necessary to ensure organisations do not lose or undervalue talent.
- Review workplace domestic violence policy as part of a broader, longer term strategy to enhance gender equality in the organisation.
* HRM has changed the names of these women.
Mihajla Gavin is a lecturer at the University of Technology Sydney Business School. Her current research in the areas of HRM and IR focuses on domestic violence and work, worker voice, trade union strategy and teachers’ working conditions.
Ruth Weatherall is a lecturer at the University of Technology Sydney Business School. Her current research in the areas of management and organisation studies focuses on domestic violence and work, social justice, not-for-profit organisations, and gender equality.