Corporate entities introducing a domestic violence policy in their workplace can seem unusual as workplace policies generally address bullying, harassment and discrimination. There remains a common misconception that what happens at home and the workplace is separate. This overlooks that violence at home, whether physical or some other form of abuse or intimidation, profoundly affects workplace participation. Below, we consider existing protections for employees as well as outline considerations for your business to successfully adopt a domestic violence policy.

Existing Protections for Employees

In 2015, domestic violence killed one woman nearly every week in Australia. The Australian Bureau of Statistics found that in NSW, the police recorded 28,780 victims of Domestic Violence. There is then a rightful urgency to create economic independence for victims of domestic violence.

Current State and Federal laws focus on providing protection from discrimination, but they don’t specifically focus on domestic violence. The Fair Work Act 2009 (FWA) prohibits unfair dismissal but focuses on termination of the employee’s contract. Under the FWA, Section 351 also prohibits employers from taking adverse action against an employee because of certain prescribed attributes or traits, including

  • Sex;
  • Physical or mental disability; and
  • Family or carer’s responsibilities.

While the Sex Discrimination Act 1984 (Cth) prohibits discrimination broadly, the Disability Discrimination Act 1992 (Cth) is unique as it imposes an explicit obligation on duty-holders, such as employers, to provide ‘reasonable adjustments’ to facilitate equal participation in the workplace.

These Acts focus more on discrimination in the workplace as an obstacle to productive work. Likewise, domestic violence victims need a work environment that recognises experiences outside of work impede an employee’s productivity and efficiency. Employee policies should reflect issues such as domestic violence, sexual assault and stalking as it fosters a workplace culture that prioritises employees health and wellbeing. By investing in an employee’s welfare, employers can reduce presenteeism rates and improve the company’s productivity. Long term, this will generate a positive impact on the business’ bottom line.

Considerations For Your Workplace Policy

When drafting your workplace policy, we encourage you to consider the following:

  • Provide a broad definition of domestic violence. This type of abuse doesn’t just involve physical violence and isn’t necessarily carried out by husbands against wives. It can include physical, verbal, psychological, financial, social, and/or sexual abuse and can be perpetrated by women and by any family member.
  • Recognise that domestic violence can be direct (assault, threats, intimidation, public humiliation) or indirect (socially isolating, spreading rumours, cutting off access to funds).
  • Make a plea to both victims and perpetrators to approach your organisation for assistance and appropriate referrals in a confidential and non-judgemental setting. Many organisations and websites provide effective ways for dealing with domestic violence issues including where to refer someone to specialist counselling and other support services.
  • Be prepared to work to find strategies that allow relocation, changing remuneration arrangements, providing special leave (with or without pay) and alternative working arrangements.
  • Ensure that the reporting of abuse will not result in any adverse action or discrimination against the person concerned. Acknowledging domestic violence as a real issue in society will be beneficial to both your business and the people in it, and therefore, advantage society on a wider scale.

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Larger companies can lead by example and introduce domestic violence policies in the workplace, empowering victims socially and economically as well as facilitating equal participation in the workplace.

Questions about how your business can introduce a domestic violence policy? Get in touch with our employment lawyers.

Catherine Logan

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