Family violence and employment

Workplaces—our new communities?

15.3 Family violence is increasingly recognised as a significant and complex issue and one which is not simply a private or individual issue, but rather a systemic one arising from wider social, economic and cultural factors. Accordingly, effective measures to address family violence must operate in both the private and public spheres. This is particularly so in the context of employment, as the line between private and public—or family life and work—is increasingly unclear, ‘with the effects of one sphere positively or negatively influencing the other’.[1] As one stakeholder in this Inquiry commented during a consultation, ‘workplaces are becoming our new communities and therefore they must be a place for change’.[2]

15.4 Two thirds of Australian women who report violence by a current partner are in paid employment.[3] The results of the National Domestic Violence and the Workplace Survey conducted in 2011 on behalf of the Australian Domestic and Family Violence Clearinghouse (ADFVC) emphasise the extent of the impact of family violence in an employment context. The survey found that, of those who reported experiencing family violence:

  • nearly half the respondents reported that the violence affected their capacity to get to work—the major reason being physical injury or restraint; and
  • in the last 12 months, 19% reported that family violence continued in the workplace, with 12% indicating it occurred in the form of abusive phone calls and emails, and 11% stating that it occurred by way of the violent person attending the workplace.[4]

15.5 Similarly, research in the United States has indicated that between 50% and 74% of employed women experiencing family violence are harassed by their partners while at work.[5] This illustrates the point made by lawyers John Stanton and Gordon Jervis that family violence ‘has no boundaries and doesn’t stop at the front door of the workplace’.[6]

The effect on employees

15.6 Many people experiencing family violence face ongoing difficulties in gaining and retaining paid employment and in disclosing family violence where it may have an impact on their employment. For example, women who have experienced family violence generally have a more disrupted work history, receive lower incomes, and are often in casual and part-time employment.[7]

15.7 Where people experiencing family violence are employed, family violence may arise in the workplace in one of three commonly identified categories of occupational violence: ‘internal’ violence; ‘client-initiated’ violence; or ‘external’ violence.[8] Internal violence refers to violence between employees within the same organisation, for example where employees work together in a family business or where a majority of residents in a particular area are employed by the same organisation.[9] Client-initiated and external violence largely occurs in client-service based organisations, for example banks and retail shops, that may provide ‘accessibility for partners or ex-partners to be targeted at their place of work’.[10]

15.8 Within these categories, employees experiencing family violence may be affected by family violence in an employment context in numerous ways, including:

  • by stalking or harassment at a place of work, or receipt of harassing telephone calls or emails;
  • by having their work actively undermined as a result of having work property, such as paperwork or uniforms, hidden or destroyed;
  • through facing difficulties attending work as a result of the person using family violence promising to mind children, then refusing to do so,[11] physically preventing the victim from leaving the house, or preventing access to transport;[12]
  • where working from home, being prevented from work or facing interference; or
  • in the case of someone using family violence, using work time or resources to facilitate violent behaviour.[13]

15.9 There may also be broader consequences, including:

  • sleep deprivation, stress and reduced concentration affecting relations with colleagues and work performance and safety;[14]
  • effects on co-workers, including increased workloads due to absenteeism or dealing with disruptions, such as harassing phone calls in the workplace;[15] and
  • in the most extreme cases, workplace family violence-related homicide.[16]

15.10 As a result, family violence can have a significant effect on employees, co-workers and workplaces and, more broadly, workplace productivity and safety.

Benefits of employment for victims

15.11 Employment may afford victims of family violence a measure of financial security, independence, confidence and, therefore, safety. While some evidence suggests that victims of family violence may experience higher levels of abuse when they initially gain employment,[17] employment is a key factor in enabling victims to leave violent relationships,[18] providing longer-term benefits associated with financial security.[19]

15.12 The importance of financial security and independence through employment has been emphasised by Elizabeth Broderick, the Sex Discrimination Commissioner:

The primary way the majority of us lay the foundations of our economic security is through participation in paid work. We must develop better workplace responses to domestic and family violence to ensure that women can stay attached to the workforce. Doing this will mean three things. Firstly, we will protect women’s financial security in the immediate term—women will be less likely to lose their job in a period of crisis. Secondly, if we can keep women attached to the labour market, we will better protect their economic security in the longer term—they will be less likely to live in poverty in their twilight years. But thirdly, and most importantly from an employer’s perspective, individual businesses will be better able to prevent the unnecessary loss of talented staff.[20]

15.13 As a result, in considering safety in the context of employment law, the ALRC acknowledges the role that financial security and independence through paid employment can play in protecting people experiencing family violence.[21]

Social and economic costs

15.14 In addition to the negative effects of family violence on employees and the positive effects of employment, family violence also generates an enormous economic and social cost, with broader implications for employers and the economy.

15.15 Family violence is projected to cost the Australian economy an estimated $15.6 billion in 2021–22.[22] In 2004, it reportedly cost the corporate and business sectors over $1.5 billion through direct costs.[23] Where family violence affects employees in the workplace, or leads to their leaving employment, individual employers face costs associated with:

  • absenteeism—including administration costs;
  • decreased productivity;
  • recruitment following staff turnover—estimated as 150% of an employee’s salary annually;[24] and
  • training for new employees and loss of corporate knowledge.[25]

15.16 The employment law system in Australia is premised on the need to provide a balanced framework that promotes labour market engagement, economic productivity and social inclusion. In light of the enormous social and economic costs of family violence, and the high proportion of people experiencing it who are employed, ensuring the employment law system appropriately identifies, responds to and addresses family violence, is central to achieving these aims.

Disclosure

15.17 People experiencing family violence may wish to disclose family violence to individuals and representatives within the employment law system—such as co-workers, human resources personnel, managers/supervisors, or union representatives—for many reasons, including:

  • to ensure their experiences of family violence are considered in attempting to gain or retain employment;
  • to alert them to the impact of family violence on their attendance or performance;
  • to seek assistance or access to entitlements; or
  • because of safety concerns.[26]

15.18 As a result, workplaces have the potential to play a key role in supporting and protecting the safety of people experiencing family violence. However, victims may be reluctant to disclose family violence.

Barriers to disclosure

15.19 In the context of the employment law system, there are particular manifestations of the general barriers identified in Family Violence—A National Legal Response, ALRC Report 114 (2010) and in Chapter 1 of this Report, as well as a range of additional barriers.

15.20 Forty-five per cent of respondents to the ADFVC survey who indicated they had experienced family violence in the previous 12 months reported that they had discussed the violence with someone at work, but that they had disclosed to a work colleague or friend rather than supervisor, human resources representative or union representative.[27]

15.21 Stakeholder responses to this Inquiry indicated a range of barriers, including that victims may be reluctant to disclose family violence because they fear such disclosure will jeopardise their job or career, they will be stigmatised, or that their employer will not be responsive.[28] In particular, stakeholders suggested that employees fear that an ‘employer may lose confidence in the ability of the victim’,[29] following disclosure of family violence. Stakeholders also emphasised that privacy concerns inhibit disclosure.[30] The Australian Services Union, for example, emphasised the barrier presented by ‘lack of assuredness around privacy’.[31]

15.22 Stakeholders also suggested that, in some cases, employees experiencing family violence consider work to be a ‘safe haven’ away from the violence and were therefore reluctant to disclose.[32]

15.23 Organisational culture and its impact on disclosure was also discussed in some submissions and may go some way to explaining why disclosure is predominantly to a work colleague or friend, rather than management. For example, Women’s Health Victoria expressed the view that:

An organisational culture in which there exists a traditional gender divide, where women are not respected, and where there is widespread sexism, may not be one in which a victim of family violence would feel comfortable disclosing ... In contrast, a workplace that is respectful and supportive of women, that also sends a clear message that family violence is not tolerated, will foster employee disclosure.[33]

15.24 Employees from particular groups or communities may face additional barriers or have different concerns preventing disclosure of family violence.[34] For example, an Indigenous person experiencing family violence may be reluctant to disclose it in a context where they work in an organisation with family or kin, or in a business in a small community.[35] An employee who is a member of a same-sex couple, but who is not ‘out’ at work, may fear stigmatisation or discrimination on the basis of his or her sexuality, as well as experiences of family violence.[36]

15.25 Addressing systemic social, economic and cultural factors perpetuating family violence is a principal way to reduce barriers to disclosure. The ALRC acknowledges the work done by the Australian Government in this respect, including in particular, the National Plan to Reduce Violence against Women and their Children (the National Plan).[37] In addition, the ALRC also considers that the introduction of national initiatives such as those outlined later in this chapter, ensuring systems identify and respond to disclosures of family violence, and that those experiencing family violence are protected, will assist in addressing barriers to disclosure within the employment law system.

Responding to disclosure

15.26 Where an employee discloses family violence in a workplace context there is a need to ensure that disclosure is dealt with sensitively and appropriately. In order to ensure this occurs, family violence-related measures as well as workplace instruments and policies must clearly outline the obligations and responsibilities of those to whom an employee has disclosed, and be tailored to meet the needs of individual workplaces and employees within those workplaces. The ALRC considers that information and guidance provided as part of the national education and awareness campaign will assist in ensuring sensitive and appropriate workplace responses.

15.27 The impact of disclosure of family violence as a trigger for risk assessment, a concern raised by some stakeholders, is a matter for particular workplaces to address in enterprise agreements, workplace policies or similar. Similarly, where the disclosure of family violence may affect particular groups of employees that is a matter for employer organisations, unions and workplaces to consider and respond to appropriately.[38] Consideration of issues arising in relation to child protection reporting and the operation and impact of mandatory reporting provisions under the Domestic and Family Violence Act 2007 (NT) is beyond the Terms of Reference for this Inquiry.[39]

[1] S Murray and A Powell, Working It Out: Domestic Violence Issues in the Workplace (2008) 1, referring to J Swanberg, T Logan and C Macke, ‘Intimate Partner Violence, Employment and the Workplace. Consequences and Future Directions’ (2005) 6 Trauma, Violence and Abuse 286.

[2] CEO Challenge, Consultation, Brisbane, 11 October 2011.

[3] Australian Bureau of Statistics, Personal Safety Survey, Catalogue No 4906.0 (2005), 11, 34.

[4] ADFVC, ADFVC National Domestic Violence and the Workplace Survey (2011). The survey sample was 3,611 respondents of which 81% were women and 90% were either a member of the National Tertiary Education Union or the NSW Nurses Association.

[5] L McFerran and R Braaf, ‘Domestic Violence is a Workplace Issue’ (Paper presented at Balance Brings Everything to Life Conference, Sydney, 11 September 2007) referring to Family Violence Prevention Fund, The Workplace Guide for Employers, Unions and Advocates (1998). See also: ILO (Bureau for Gender Equality), Gender-based violence in the world of work: Overview and selected annotated bibliography, Working Paper 3 (2011), 13.

[6] J Stanton and G Jervis, ‘Domestic Violence and the Workplace’ (2010) (7) National Safety Magazine 36.

[7] M Costello, D Chung and E Carson, ‘Exploring Pathways Out of Poverty: Making Connections Between Domestic Violence and Employment Practices’ (2005) 40 Australian Journal of Social Issues 253, 256; S Franzway, C Zufferey and D Chung, ‘Domestic Violence and Women’s Employment’ (Paper presented at Our Work, Our Lives National Conference on Women and Industrial Relations, Adelaide, 21 September 2007).

[8] S Murray and A Powell, Working It Out: Domestic Violence Issues in the Workplace (2008), 3.

[9] The ADFVC survey results indicate 12% of those who reported experiencing family violence work in the same workplace as the person using family violence: ADFVC, ADFVC National Domestic Violence and the Workplace Survey (2011).

[10] S Murray and A Powell, Working It Out: Domestic Violence Issues in the Workplace (2008), 4.

[11] The ADFVC survey results indicate 22% of those who reported experiencing family violence and who reported that the violence affected their capacity to get to work cited refusal or failure to show up to care for children by the person using family violence as the cause: ADFVC, ADFVC National Domestic Violence and the Workplace Survey (2011).

[12] The ADFVC survey results indicate 67% of those who reported experiencing family violence and who reported that the violence affected their capacity to get to work cited physical injury or restraint by the person using family violence as the cause: Ibid.

[13] For discussion of each of these issues see, eg, L McFerran and R Braaf, ‘Domestic Violence is a Workplace Issue’ (Paper presented at Balance Brings Everything to Life Conference, Sydney, 11 September 2007); A Moe and M Bell, ‘Abject Economics: The Effects of Batterings and Violence on Women’s Work and Employability’ (2004) 10(1) Violence Against Women 29. See also ASU (Victorian and Tasmanian Authorities and Services Branch), Submission CFV 10.

[14] The ADFVC survey results indicate 16% of those who reported experiencing family violence in the last 12 months reported a negative effect on work performance arising from being distracted, tired or unwell: ADFVC, ADFVC National Domestic Violence and the Workplace Survey (2011)

[15] See, eg, ILO (Bureau for Gender Equality), Gender-based violence in the world of work: Overview and selected annotated bibliography, Working Paper 3 (2011), 13.

[16] See, eg, L McFerran and R Braaf, ‘Domestic Violence is a Workplace Issue’ (Paper presented at Balance Brings Everything to Life Conference, Sydney, 11 September 2007); C Reeves and A O’Leary-Kelly, ‘The Effects and Costs of Intimate Partner Violence for Work Organisations’ (2007) 22 Journal of Interpersonal Violence 327.

[17] This may result from the threat that employment poses to the power and control exercised by those who use family violence—referred to as the ‘backlash hypothesis’: S Franzway, ‘Framing Domestic Violence: Its Impact on Women's Employment’ (Paper presented at Re-Imagining Sociology Conference, Melbourne, 20 December 2008).

[18] S Potton, Pathways: How Women Leave Violent Men (2003), 71.

[19] See, eg, M Costello, D Chung and E Carson, ‘Exploring Pathways Out of Poverty: Making Connections Between Domestic Violence and Employment Practices’ (2005) 40 Australian Journal of Social Issues 253.

[20] E Broderick, ‘Launch of Domestic Violence Clauses’ (Paper presented at Launch of UNSW Domestic Violence Clause, Sydney, 15 April 2010).

[21] The full Terms of Reference are set out at the front of this Report and are available on the ALRC website at <www.alrc.gov.au>.

[22] See Ch 1. In terms of the overall economic impact of family violence, several key studies have been conducted estimating the total annual cost of violence against women by their partners. While the focus of the studies has been on women, the results are also useful to indicate the enormous economic impact of family violence more broadly. See, eg, National Council to Reduce Violence against Women and their Children, Background Paper to Time for Action: The National Council’s Plan to Reduce Violence Against Women and their Children, 2009–2021 (2009), 43; KPMG, The Cost of Violence against Women and their Children (2009), prepared for the National Council to Reduce Violence Against Women and their Children.

[23] See, eg, Victorian Community Council Against Violence, Family Violence is a Workplace Issue: Workplace Models to Prevent Family Violence (2004).

[24] ADFVC, Why Domestic Violence Entitlements Makes Economic Sense: The Economic Costs of Domestic Violence on the Workplace, referring to Australian Human Resources Institute, ‘Love ’Em don’t Lose ’Em: Identifying Retention Strategies that Work’ (2008) 2(1) HR Pulse 1.

[25] ADFVC, Why Domestic Violence Entitlements Makes Economic Sense: The Economic Costs of Domestic Violence on the Workplace. For US research see, eg, C Reeves and A O’Leary-Kelly, ‘The Effects and Costs of Intimate Partner Violence for Work Organisations’ (2007) 22 Journal of Interpersonal Violence 327. Generally, see also ILO (Bureau for Gender Equality), Gender-based violence in the world of work: Overview and selected annotated bibliography, Working Paper 3 (2011), 13, 14.

[26] See, eg, Women’s Health Victoria, Submission CFV 133.

[27] ADFVC, ADFVC National Domestic Violence and the Workplace Survey (2011).

[28] See, eg, National Network of Working Women’s Centres, Submission CFV 20; ASU (Victorian and Tasmanian Authorities and Services Branch), Submission CFV 10; Women’s Health Victoria, Submission CFV 11. See also S Franzway, C Zufferey and D Chung, ‘Domestic Violence and Women’s Employment’ (Paper presented at Our Work, Our Lives National Conference on Women and Industrial Relations, Adelaide, 21 September 2007).

[29] ASU (Victorian and Tasmanian Authorities and Services Branch), Submission CFV 10.

[30] ACTU, Submission CFV 39; Joint submission from Domestic Violence Victoria and others, Submission CFV 22; AASW (Qld), Submission CFV 17; Redfern Legal Centre, Submission CFV 15; Women’s Health Victoria, Submission CFV 11; ASU (Victorian and Tasmanian Authorities and Services Branch), Submission CFV 10.

[31] ASU (Victorian and Tasmanian Authorities and Services Branch), Submission CFV 10.

[32] ADFVC, Submission CFV 26.

[33] Women’s Health Victoria, Submission CFV 11.

[34] See, eg, Federation of Ethnic Communities’ Councils of Australia, Submission CFV 126

[35] See, eg, Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Women’s Legal Service North Queensland, Submission
CFV 99, which discusses general barriers to disclosure faced by Indigenous women.

[36] LGBTI Community Roundtable, Consultation, Sydney, 28 September 2011.

[37] Australian Government, The National Plan to Reduce Violence against Women: Immediate Government Actions (2009), 12.

[38] For example, the New South Wales Police Service is currently considering the ramifications for its unsworn officers and employees of disclosure of domestic violence under their current code of conduct. The ALRC understands that disclosure of a domestic violence assault (though not an apprehended violence order) triggers a risk assessment process: ADFVC, Submission CFV 26.

[39] These issues, in particular child protection and mandatory reporting, were considered in Australian Law Reform Commission and New South Wales Law Reform Commission, Family Violence—A National Legal Response, ALRC Report 114; NSWLRC Report 128 (2010).