November 25 is the UN International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women. In Australia domestic violence continues to be an issue for many women, so how can employers help those who may be experiencing abuse? Marcela Slepica, Clinical Director AccessEAP offers advice that can assist businesses in developing domestic violence policies to create safe workplaces.
According to research, 2.2 million Australians have experienced physical and/or sexual violence from a partner, whilst 3.6 million have experienced emotional abuse from a partner¹. As a national welfare issue, domestic and family violence not only affects the victim in their personal lives, but in their professional life too.
Employers have an important role to play and need to take the issue seriously, the cost of domestic violence to the Australian workplace could rise to $9.9 billion annually by 2021/2[²]. Marcela Slepica, Clinical Director AccessEAP, acknowledges the role employers and work play in supporting women dealing with this issue.
“Domestic violence has very real impacts on employees and the workplace. For the victim, health and economic costs can increase and mental health can deteriorate. For organisations, this can lead to lower productivity, efficiency, staff retention rates and motivation, as well as higher absenteeism,” Slepica says.
What’s more, some of these employees’ suffering doesn’t end once they leave the house.
“Victims of abuse can still be subject to unbelievable pressures when they reach the office, such as email and phone harassment, with partners trying to force them to resign or get fired. In extreme cases, they may even be targeted by their abuser at their place of work. This type of behaviour then effects the workforce as a whole, with staff exposed to the abuse in person.” Slepica says.
Many organisations recognise it is important and relevant to have a Domestic Violence policy in place to support employees and to provide training to managers and their staff about how to respond and how to offer support. Victims should always feel that there is someone they can confidentially talk to in the workplace, yet only 20 per cent of employees feel comfortable helping a colleague who is experiencing domestic abuse[³].
“Work can often become a sanctuary away from abuse and as an employer, it’s important to encourage a working environment that is safe for employees. By creating a non-judgmental space where victims feel confident to talk about their experiences, it can help raise awareness and make sure that someone is getting the help they deserve,” she adds.
Slepica says AccessEAP is committed to creating safe workplaces and encouraging workplace wellbeing to the forefront. They can assist companies in developing domestic violence policies with training based on three elements; Recognise, Respond, Refer.
When a woman is experiencing domestic violence, it is likely that her patterns of behaviour will change. Managers should remain connected to their team to be able to recognise any changes. Some behaviours to look out for may include:
- Frequently arriving to work very early or very late
- Frequent personal phone calls that leave the employee distressed
If someone has taken the difficult step of sharing their experience of violence or abuse, it is vital to respond in an appropriate and supportive manner. Firstly, you should believe the person and listen without judging. Be supportive, encouraging, open and honest. There are also some practical considerations which will help make the person feel safer and more supported. Discuss with an employee what might make them feel safe at work e.g. screening calls, changing email address, priority or safe parking.
- Screen their phone calls or install caller ID on their phone
- Change their email address and remove their details from the organisation’s directories
- Arrange for priority parking close to the building entrance and organise for them to be accompanied to and from their car
- Ensure employee’s workstation is not easily accessible for someone entering from outside
While provisions such as additional special leave, financial assistance and security measures will go a long way towards supporting women to remain in the workplace, other external supports may also be required. Ensure your employees are aware of appropriate support services which include their Employer Assistance Program. Employers can also refer employees to an expert domestic violence service for crisis counselling, information on crisis care facilities and refuges, information on domestic violence orders and court support and information on longer-term counselling services.
 Australian Bureau of Statistics 2016 Personal Safety Survey
 National Council to Reduce Violence against Women and their Children. The Cost of Violence against Women and their Children 2009
 White Ribbon Australia. (2017). Workplace Accreditation Pilot Project Baseline Survey.