When does Domestic and Family Violence become Violence at work

Safe Work Australia has summarised that bullying and violence in the workplace directly affects a worker’s psychological and physical health. Their infographic is a useful resource and shows that:

  • One in three women who claim for a mental disorder stated it involved harassment or bullying
  • One in five men who claim for a mental disorder stated it involved harassment or bullying
  • Workers who report being sworn or yelled at in the workplace: 37%
  • Workers who experienced unfair treatment due to gender: 11%
  • Almost 20% of workers say they have experienced discomfort due to sexual humour
  • Workers who report being physically assaulted or threatened by patients or clients: 22%
  • Mental disorder claims that are caused by harassment, bullying or exposure to violence: 39%
  • Mental stress claims as a result from exposure to occupational violence: 15%
  • Mental stress claims made by workers aged 20-27 years were from exposure to workplace violence: 26%
  • Mental stress claims made by workers under 20 years were from exposure to workplace violence: 31%

But how does domestic and family violence (DFV) intersect with this, given many of us are working from home. DFV becomes more frequent during periods of financial stress and emergency and we know that COVID19 ticks both these boxes.

Domestic and family violence has always been a workplace issue, now more than ever. 

Financial pressures, increased stress and disconnection from support networks can exacerbate the underlying conditions that lead to domestic and occupational violence. Any violence has a detrimental cost and impact on businesses, and how you handle these will directly impact upon productivity and workplace culture. If the perpetrator works at the same place, this is rapidly exacerbated.

What are your responsibilities as an employer?

For many of us, our home is sometimes our workplace. With pressures from illness such as COVID19, it has just become an even more prominent and central part of the workplace. As an employer, your obligations are to do what you would do in the workplace. Start with a systematic approach in managing the risks. The WHS Hierachy of Controls dictates that you try and eliminate that risk, and if this is not possible, you minimise and control that risk.

Refer: https://www.safeworkaustralia.gov.au/risk#controlling-risks-using-the-hierarchy

As an owner or person in control, you not only have corporate but personal responsibility to take reasonable steps to minimise that risk. You need to learn about the risk and allocate sufficient resources and tools to adequately manage those risks. This requires collaboration and communication around that topic. Cost is not an excuse not to take appropriate actions, unless these costs are so high as to prevent you from taking steps.

The below information is a guide to help you reduce workplace violence in the form of DFV. However to implement and follow these processes also help to build confidence and sound workplace culture that will flow back to you improving the productivity of staff, increasing situational awareness and helping everyone build a safer positive workplace. Australian workplace statistics’ show that if you can achieve this, it will lift productivity, and thereby profitability, within your business in a tangible way.

You need to:

  1. Encourage staff to talk with you or a suitably trained staff member about any concerns they may have.
  2. Even if they choose not to discuss their concerns or existing FDV with you, if you are aware they are at risk you must still take all reasonable steps to control that risk.
  3. Seek expert advice on how to approach this sensitively and carefully. Resources include:
  4. Calling 1800 RESPECT to seek guidance.
    • The Australian Human Rights Commission provides guidance on how you can do this. Their recommendation include clear support, establish and discuss clear policies and procedures.

Refer: https://humanrights.gov.au/our-work/sex-discrimination/publications/fact-sheet-domestic-and-family-violence-workplace-issue

5. Use other helpful resources to help you draft and plan around FDV there are templates and advise to help you set up domestic violence safety planning. A key component is to follow through with correct implementation and support and good communication.

Government tool kits and guides can be found at: https://humanrights.gov.au/our-work/employers/toolkits-guidelines-and-other-resources

Refer: https://humanrights.gov.au/our-work/domestic-violence-and-workplace-employee-employer-and-union-resources-2012

UNSW has useful information to help guide you.

Refer: https://www.arts.unsw.edu.au/our-research/research-centres-institutes/gendered-violence-research-network

  1. Our Watch also has important resources to help businesses navigate sensitive issues around FDV. For information to help you and your staff regarding ‘How to respond to disclosures’ Refer: https://workplace.ourwatch.org.au/resource/practice-guidance-responding-to-disclosures/
  2. If perpetrator(s) also work within the organisation hold them accountable. Be clear with policies and procedures. Correctly and reliably implement your carefully designed policies and procedures and be consistent.
  3. Ensure what you are asking staff to do is not placing them at increased risk.
    • Do they have a designated work-space?
    • Can they agree work routines?
    • Do they use a work computer or laptop? Is this secure?
    • Do they have a work phone and is it secure?
    • If this places them at risk discuss their other options, this might include relocation.
  4. Have a designated contact and make sure that person is properly trained in how to respond.
  5. Make provision for leave or flexible work arrangements.
  6. Establish clear roles and responsibilities and build capacity and provide effective training..
  7. Provide a means for staff at risk to communicate with you or a trained representative in the event they need help, provide a work phone, consider safety software, agree a time when they can talk freely, allow them to contact you when they think it is safe to do so, speak one-on-one and ensure confidentiality. Allow them to control their decisions.
  8. Provide accurate referral information. Provide information about counselling, legal, health, financial and other family and domestic violence support services.
  9. Communicate the availability of entitlements such as paid/unpaid family and domestic violence leave, flexible work arrangements and other entitlements which support workers experiencing family and domestic violence.
  10. If your workers witness or see signs of family and domestic violence while undertaking work, you should contact 1800 RESPECT for advice.
  11. Do not discriminate against someone who is the subject of FDV. Do not make them redundant to avoid your responsibilities.
  12. Do not pass on sensitive information to others within or outside the organisation.
  13. Provide mentors and other layers of support.

Managing psychological risks is widely described and here are some guides for preventing and responding to workplace bullying.
Refer: https://www.safeworkaustralia.gov.au/doc/guide-preventing-and-responding-workplace-bullying