Much has been reported about the benefits of working from home, but for some people, home is not a safe place. Those who work from home are more exposed to people who are responsible for domestic or family violence, and one woman a week is murdered during domestic violence incidents in Australia.
The issue raises some interesting points about policy and procedures for employers when an employee is experiencing domestic or family violence. This issue was discussed in a podcast for BAL Lawyers’ HR Breakfast Club, featuring White Ribbon’s Janice Hadgraft and the Australian Human Resource Professionals’ James Judge.
Under work health and safety laws, an employer is obliged to provide a safe working environment, and a domestic violence situation may become a liability.
A recent case where a worker was killed by her partner brought the issue to light. Her estate lodged a claim for workers’ compensation death benefits on behalf of her two dependent children, which was contested by the insurer on the grounds that the attack took place outside of her normal work hours and was therefore not covered. The insurer was unsuccessful, meaning injury or death from domestic violence while working from home can be considered a work-related death or injury, and employers may be liable.
BAL Lawyers associate Rebecca Richardson says employers and human resources practitioners should have a policy or procedure, or both, in place before the worst happens.
“Domestic violence is something that should be considered by employers, and there’s a number of things that employers can do in terms of policy and plans for domestic and family violence so that if something does happen, the employer already has a plan for an appropriate way to handle it,” she says.
“When something does come up, it can be fairly shocking. Most cases of domestic or family violence affect the workplace in invisible ways – for example, poor attendance or poor concentration, but in some cases, it can be explosive.
“For example, if a violent partner enters the workplace, policies and training are an important part of the employer’s response. All businesses should consider having a domestic violence policy – especially large businesses. The more employees you have, the more likely someone will be experiencing domestic violence.”
Resources to help employers form policies and procedures to effectively deal with domestic violence affecting employees, particularly while working from home, are available on the Fair Work Ombudsman’s website.
Employers and employees should be aware that in 2018 the Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth) was amended to provide employees with a new entitlement of five days’ unpaid family and domestic violence leave as part of the National Employment Standards.
The HR Breakfast Club podcast is available online.