Family violence and employment

12. Family violence is increasingly being recognised not simply as a private or individual issue, but rather as a systemic issue arising from wider social, economic and cultural factors. This supports the argument that family violence should be dealt with in both private and public spheres, including in employment contexts. The impact on women is particularly significant given that, for example, the majority of Australian women who report family violence are in paid employment[3] and in light of the implications and organisational cost of family violence on workplaces.

13. 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,[4] employment is ultimately a key factor in enabling victims to leave violent relationships[5] and provides longer-term benefits associated with financial security. On a broader level, workplaces also provide ‘organisational contexts through which social norms are shaped and can be changed’.[6]

14. Many victims of family violence face difficulties 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, are on lower incomes and are more often employed in casual and part-time employment.[7]

15. 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. Client-initiated and external violence largely occurs in client service-based organisations which may provide ‘accessibility for partners or ex-partners to be targeted at their place of work’.[9]

16. In brief, within these categories, family violence may manifest itself in the workplace in numerous ways, including by:

  • stalking or harassing the victim at a place of work or making harassing telephone calls;

  • actively undermining the victim’s work by hiding or destroying work property such as paperwork or uniforms;

  • promising to mind children, then refusing to do so;

  • physically preventing the victim from leaving the house;

  • where the victim works from home, interfering or preventing the victim from working; or

  • using work time or resources to facilitate violent behaviour.[10]

17. There may also be broader consequences, including:

  • victim sleep deprivation, stress and reduced concentration affecting relations with colleagues and work performance and safety;

  • effects on co-workers, including increased workloads due to absenteeism or dealing with disruptions such as harassing phone calls in the workplace; and

  • in the most extreme cases, workplace family violence-related homicide.

18. As a result, family violence can have an enormous impact on workplaces in terms of productivity, absenteeism and staff turnover as well as, in some instances, employee and workplace safety.[11]

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

[4] This may result from the threat 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, 2008).

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

[6] Government of Victoria, A Right to Respect: Victoria’s Plan to Prevent Violence Against Women 2010–2020 (2010), 41.

[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, 2007).

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

[9] Ibid, 4.

[10] See for example: L McFerran and R Braaf, ‘Domestic Violence is a Workplace Issue’ (Paper presented at Balance Brings Everything to Life Conference, Sydney, 2009); 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.

[11] 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. For example, in January 2009 KPMG conducted a study for the National Council for Violence Against Women with a forward projection of costs to 2021–22 of $15.6 billion: KPMG, The Cost of Violence against Women and their Children (2009), prepared for the National Council to Reduce Violence Against Women and their Children.