Domestic and family violence is workplace business too, say HR experts

Genevieve Jacobs 31 July 2019

We’re in the midst of considerable cultural and social change around domestic and family violence. Awareness has been raised, community discussions have been held but it’s still relatively rare for that conversation to happen in the Australian workplace.

That needs to change, according to the White Ribbon campaign and BAL Lawyers, who have been dealing with the issue from an HR perspective in their regular podcast series on workplace issues, the HR Breakfast Club.

Janice Hadgraft is the assessment and assessors manager for White Ribbon’s Workplace Accreditation Program. It’s based on building a whole-of-organisation commitment to stop family and domestic violence. Employers who take active steps to stop violence against women gain accreditation as a White Ribbon Workplace.

“Managers realise that they have a limited understanding on what to do when they’re approached,” she says. “But 60 per cent of the women who are victims of domestic violence are working, and there is, therefore, a real need to make change in the workplace.”

HR expert James Judge agrees that we’re seeing generational change in how domestic and family violence is treated in the workplace.

“It was never discussed, it was seen as an intensely personal matter,” he says.

Provisions exist under the Fair Work Act making it possible for employees experiencing domestic violence to request flexible working arrangements. In August last year, a Fair Work Commission ruling meant that all modern awards now include five days’ unpaid domestic violence leave. Parliament then extended this provision further by including these provisions in the national employment standards.

Judge says that last year’s ruling forced many organisations to “step up and pay attention”, and face up to a situation that already impinges on the workplace, from harassing calls and emails to threats. Perpetrators can even turn up at their victim’s place of employment, creating further anxiety for reception staff and the need to ensure workplace safety.

Judge also nominates the flow-on effects of presenteeism, absenteeism and a possibly noticeable drop in performance when employees are juggling with these kinds of pressures. It can often take years before an employee is ready to disclose what’s happening and both Judge and Hadgraft agree that creating a workplace where there’s trust in the processes is critical.

And, Judge says, it’s not only victims: HR professionals and managers also need to be aware that allegations of domestic violence may be made against their employees, who will also need to be supported in a confidential and non-judgemental environment.

It’s a complex picture and one that adds up to the need for careful thought, planning and education in the workplace. Both specialists suggest that the approach to domestic and family violence should be proactive, including effective leadership, resource allocation, communication, HR policy development and training.

Janice Hadgraft says that domestic and family violence is both serious but also preventable.

“Whether it occurs in or beyond the workplace, it impacts on the health and safety of employees, their wellbeing and their productivity. It impacts negatively on workplace culture, organisational reputation and bottom-line profit and loss.”

Conversely, a workplace that takes the issue seriously has the chance to show real leadership in driving social change, strengthening safety and gender equity and becoming an employer of choice.

On episode 10 of the HR Breakfast Club podcast, Genevieve Jacobs, Janice Hadgraft and James Judge discuss the intersection between domestic violence and the workplace, which can present complex and challenging situations for HR practitioners.

If you are interested in finding out more information about The HR Breakfast Club or attending one of their upcoming events – check out the HR Breakfast Club website.

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