Workplaces can play a big role in helping domestic violence victims

For one in four women, trans and non-binary folk, and one in 13 men in Australia, home is not a place of safety. It is a place of violence.

Domestic violence rates have increased during the pandemic with victims housebound with their abuser. The federal government has recognised these implications and injected funds into the anti-violence sector. But the focus on social support has overlooked the responsibility of workplaces.

Domestic abuse has increased during the pandemic as victims have nowhere to go.
Domestic abuse has increased during the pandemic as victims have nowhere to go.Credit:Gabriele Charotte

Workplaces play an important role in reducing the harms of domestic violence. Fulfilling this role complex, particularly when the home is also the workplace.

Workplaces and domestic violence


Only 12 years ago business leaders did not see domestic violence as a workplace issue. Times have changed.

Domestic violence is now internationally recognised as a substantive barrier for workplace gender equality. A growing body of research has shown that domestic violence impacts the workplace in many ways.

Abusers destroy workplace property. Prevent victims from going to work. Message or call sometimes hundreds of times a day. Harass victims in the workplace or at networking events.

Accordingly, domestic violence can preclude victims from performing well at work and negatively impact their long-term career outcomes.

Importantly, the workplace can also positively impact victims’ lives. Work can bring satisfaction stolen in home life. Work can be a valuable pathway to leaving a violent relationship. A means of independence.

Workplaces also benefit from supporting victims by reducing turnover or absenteeism, retaining talent and maintaining productivity. It is even cost-saving to support victims.

But workplace domestic violence policies are in their infancy and often lag behind the evidence. Federal entitlements in Australia are limited to five days unpaid leave, the right to request flexible working arrangements and the ability to repurpose other leave. More needs to be done.

When home is the workplace: Responding to DV

Workplace domestic violence policies are often crafted under the assumption that the workplace is separate from the home. The COVID-19 pandemic underscores that this is often not the case.

As the trend of working from home is likely to persist, workplaces urgently need to consider how to safeguard victims of violence in this “new normal”.

The first step is to recognise that home is not necessarily a place of safety. When working from home, victims can be subjected to increased surveillance by their abuser, as well as increased violence.

Managers and colleagues should create spaces away from the home and technology wherever possible, such as a walking meeting.

Return to the workplace should give priority to those at risk to violence. This may include increasing other supports, like childcare, to allow victims time away from the home.

Colleagues typically play an important role in disclosure of abuse. Workplaces need to ensure training, so that colleagues can recognise signs of abuse and respond safely.

In the absence of formal training, managers and colleagues can consult expert services for advice on safe responses.

Workplaces can even set up ways for victims to digitally access vital information about social support without abusers knowing.

We must not forget holding abusers to account. Promoting workplace gender equality is an important part violence prevention.

It is vital that workplaces share experiences of supporting their staff and creating a workplace culture that promotes equality so we can continue to develop knowledge and keep victims safe.

Only together will we be able to turn the rising tide of violence.

Dr Ruth Weatherall is a lecturer in management at the University of Technology Sydney.

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