How employers can support survivors of domestic violence

The Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) has recently called for the introduction of paid family and domestic violence leave for survivors to attend to matters arising from their situation. This call has been supported by Rosie Batty, Australian of the Year and domestic violence campaigner, and is currently being considered by the Fair Work Commission.

Support mechanisms in the workplace are becoming more common: much of the public sector and some of the private sector are implementing their own initiatives and policies.
However, formalised workplace support is still far from widespread and, by and large, it’s left up to the discretion of each individual employer.

Employers sometimes aren’t aware of how they can help their employees, so here are five suggestions for providing workplace support and assistance to employees impacted by domestic violence.

1. Paid domestic violence leave

Paid domestic violence leave would ensure that survivors of domestic violence have time to seek legal advice, attend court proceedings and medical appointments, liaise with their children’s school and carers, and seek alternative accommodation. Given the circumstances, this leave should be kept separate from annual leave and sick leave. It’s also important that access to this leave is simple, straightforward and confidential. For example, allowing an employee to apply directly through human resources means that they’re not forced to discuss their personal circumstances with their manager.

2. A support person

A workplace support person would provide survivors of domestic violence with someone to talk to privately and confidentially. This person needn’t be a manager or senior employee, but they do need to be someone who’s good at listening, has some training, and, when asked, is able to give advice about support services and resources. Mostly, they need to be a confidante who provides a safe haven in times of need.

3. Access to EAPs

Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs) are essentially counselling services intended to help employees deal with personal problems that might adversely impact their job performance, health and wellbeing. EAPs are offered by employers at no cost to their employees. They’re provided confidentially and through a third party, either face-to-face or by phone — the latter is particularly useful for employees in rural communities.

4. Security and flexibility

Sometimes a violent or threatening spouse will stake out their partner’s place of work. Having people who can be notified to look out for a particular individual can be a great support and comfort to the employee. As can flexible working hours. If an abusive husband knows that his wife starts work at 9am, he may wait for her outside — if she’s permitted to start an hour earlier or later she can avoid intimidation and the threat of violence.

5. Support and facilitation

Employers should adopt a supportive and facilitative role when assisting employees impacted by domestic violence. They should avoid intervening and instead be supportive of whatever action their employee decides to take. Providing affected employees with information about services and resources either within the workplace or externally (for example, 1800RESPECT) will help their employee feel enabled to seek the support they need.

Change and the future

The Fair Work Commission is currently considering an application by the ACTU to insert a clause in all 122 modern awards to give permanent staff access to 10 days paid domestic violence leave and casual staff access to 10 days unpaid leave. A decision is expected in 2016. If implemented, this clause would apply in all workplaces across Australia for all employees covered by modern awards — that is, the vast majority of Australians.

Recent statistics detailing the number of deaths in Australia caused by family and domestic violence have been a wake-up call to many. This is an urgent and important issue that affects everyone: women, men, children and families. Employers can do their bit by recognising the seriousness and prevalence of domestic violence and how it can impact employees, and implementing more supportive workplace policies accordingly.

Domestic violence support


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Alexandra Grayson

Maurice Blackburn Sydney

Alexandra (Alex) Grayson is a Principal Lawyer who manages the Employment and Industrial Relations Practice of Maurice Blackburn’s Sydney office. She has almost 20 years’ experience in industrial relations, including almost a decade as a labour lawyer. The prestigious Doyles Guide lists Alex as a recommended lawyer for employees and trade union representation in NSW in 2018 and her team as one of the top law firms …

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