Addressing family violence in the workplace

Workplaces can be places of safety and support for people experiencing family violence. This page can help employers understand how family violence affects the workplace, explains employers' duties and also helps employers respond to family violence.

Date last updated

Monday 04 Nov 2019

Industries and topics

Occupational violence and aggression
Stress

On this page

  • Supportive workplaces
  • What is family violence?
  • How family violence affects the workplace
  • Employer duties when dealing with family violence
  • Creating a workplace environment which can address family violence
  • Responding to family violence in the workplace
  • Control measures

Supportive workplaces

Family violence becomes a workplace issue when its effect on an individual extends beyond the home and into the workplace. Family violence can also occur directly in the workplace where, for example, both the person committing family violence and the *victim survivor work together or when the person committing family violence attends or enters the victim survivor's workplace.

Workplaces can play an important role in preventing and responding to family violence by providing a safe and supportive working environment for all employees. The safety and support of their workplace may particularly help employees experiencing family violence.

Supportive workplaces can also result in higher retention rates, higher employee morale and increased productivity.

The information on this page aims to help employers understand how family violence affects the workplace and provides information about how to address family violence. Health and safety representatives (HSRs) can also use this information.

Victim survivor

*The term 'victim survivor' describes those who live with or have escaped family violence. Using both 'victim' and 'survivor' shows that while an individual may have been subjected to family violence by a family member, therefore becoming a victim, the person has also drawn on their inner resources, community supports and other personal skills and knowledge to cope with the situation. Using both words acknowledges the person is also a survivor of the abusive behaviour and treatment directed towards them.

What is family violence?

Family violence can be behaviour by a person towards a family member that can include:

  • physical abuse
  • sexual abuse
  • emotional or psychological abuse
  • economic abuse
  • threats
  • coercion
  • controlling or dominating another family member and causing them to feel fear for their safety or wellbeing or for the safety and wellbeing of another person
  • behaviour by a person that causes a child to hear, witness or otherwise be exposed to the effects of family violence

People who commit domestic and family violence are often called 'perpetrators'. Perpetrators and victim survivors of family violence do not have to live together for a definition of family violence to apply to their situation.

Most family violence is men committing offences against women. However, family violence can occur in any kind of family structure, including between siblings and in lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, transsexual, intersex or questioning (LGBTIQ) relationships.

How family violence affects the workplace

Family violence can affect a workplace in different ways. It can threaten the safety of the employee who is experiencing family violence and also their co-workers, supervisors and clients. The effects can range from interference felt by all employees, to serious assault against an individual employee. Family violence can cause significant individual and organisational costs. Family violence can also be a physical threat if the perpetrator attends the workplace.

As an employer it may not be possible to identify ahead of time whether family violence will affect your workplace. However, given the extent and incidence of family violence within our community, you should presume family violence in the workplace may become an issue and you should plan accordingly.

The following is a list of some of the family violence risk scenarios that could occur in the workplace:

  • Perpetrator 'entering' the workplace by using email or telephone to contact the victim survivor.
  • Perpetrator attending the workplace and verbally or physically attacking a victim survivor.
  • The perpetrator verbally or physically attacking the victim survivor in circumstances where both parties work together.
  • The perpetrator making threats to the workplace or co-workers of an employee who is a victim survivor.
  • An employee who is a victim survivor having a reduced ability to work safely due to injury or distraction caused by family violence.
  • Reduced mental and physical wellbeing of an employee who is a victim survivor.
  • Employee's ability to work safely affected due to distraction caused by being a perpetrator of family violence.
  • Perpetrator using work resources to plan or commit family violence.
  • The perpetrator presenting outside work premises to intimidate, threaten or assault an employee who is a victim survivor.

Some of the ways family violence affects the workplace

The following scenarios show some of the ways violence in the home may impact the workplace. The information is adapted from 'Family Violence and New Zealand Workplaces' brochure, New Zealand Public Service Association 2015.

Scenario 1

Actions of perpetrator

Attempts to prevent the employee who is a victim survivor from getting to work.

Impact on employee who is a victim survivor

Tired, distracted and frequently late to work or takes time off work.

Impact on other employees

Increased workload for co-workers due to absence of work of employee who is a victim survivor, resulting in increased stress for employees and victim.

Consequence for employer

Poor job performance and reduced productivity of victim in the workplace.

Scenario 2

Actions of perpetrator

Interferes with the employee who is a victim survivor at work by repeatedly phoning or texting the victim, stalking or hanging around the workplace.

Impact on employee who is a victim survivor

Unproductive or making mistakes at work. Loss of employment.

Impact on other employees

Co-workers may try to protect the employee who is a victim survivor from unwanted phone calls or visits thus increasing their own stress and putting themselves in a dangerous situation.

Consequence for employer

Poor team performance, employees cover absences, low morale amongst employees, increased absenteeism, staff resign.

Scenario 3

Actions of perpetrator

Threatens, verbally abuses, hits or pushes the employee who is a victim survivor in the workplace.

Impact on employee who is a victim survivor

Tries to hide abuse and/ or injuries and avoids co-workers, appears evasive and disengaged at work.

Impact on other employees

Employees worried about their own safety as well as their co-worker's safety.

Consequence for employer

Potential harm to co-workers and/or clients when perpetrator enters the workplace

Employer duties when dealing with family violence

As an employer you must, so far as is reasonably practicable, provide and maintain for employees, including independent contractors, a working environment that is safe and without risk to health. This general duty includes providing and maintaining systems of work that are, so far as is reasonably practicable, safe and without risks to health.

In general, you must also, so far as is reasonably practicable, consult with employees, including HSRs, and independent contractors, about health and safety issues that directly affect or are likely to directly affect them when, for example:

  • identifying or assessing hazards or risks to health or safety in the workplace
  • making decisions about measures to control risks to health or safety in the workplace
  • making decisions about the procedures for providing information and training to employees
  • proposing changes that may affect the health or safety of employees in the workplace

Employers should control the risk of family violence in the workplace in a similar way to controlling the risk of other forms of workplace violence.

Creating a workplace environment which can address family violence

It is important workplaces develop supportive and non-judgemental environments in which employees feel safe to discuss family violence issues. A plan to prevent family violence from occurring in the workplace has a better chance of success if an employer is well informed of all the risk factors facing employees. For example, employees providing information to employers can help the employer control the risk of family violence for everyone at the workplace.

To create an environment where employees feel confident to talk about their experience of family violence, you should be able to demonstrate that such information will be private and confidential. Confidentiality is important because many employees who are victim survivors are often not willing to talk about their experience due to, for example, the stigma attached to family violence and fear of what will happen after they share the information.

There are ways you can create a workplace culture or environment that is safe and helps employees talk about family violence. One way to do this is to develop appropriate family violence policies and procedures.

Developing, applying and promoting policies and procedures in relation to controlling family violence in the workplace can help raise awareness and understanding of family violence as a workplace issue.

To be effective these policies and procedures should be:

  • developed in consultation with employees and HSRs
  • available and communicated to all employees
  • included in induction programs
  • discussed at team meetings
  • reviewed regularly

Responding to family violence in the workplace

The following are some steps you, as an employer, can take to address family violence in the workplace:

  • Provide all employees with education and training to raise their awareness and understanding of family violence, its potential effects in the workplace and how to manage risks associated with family violence.
  • Appoint family violence contact people within the workplace and promote their role.
  • Ensure line managers are aware of how to respond to disclosures of family violence from employees.
  • Ensure employees, including HSRs, union delegates, managers and family violence contact people, have received appropriate training regarding family violence.
  • Regularly review and evaluate incidents of family violence disclosure.

Employees may choose to only disclose instances of family violence to you, as their employer, in confidence. In these circumstances, you should ensure that all information disclosed is confidential unless there is a specific risk to the affected employee or other employees. Specific risks may include the risk of the perpetrator physically entering the workplace to access the employee who is a victim survivor.

Where an employee has disclosed family violence to you or where you have identified specific risks, you should develop an appropriate risk control/safety plan. Keep information about why the plan is necessary to a minimum and share the plan only with employees it is likely to affect. You should include the employee who is a victim survivor in the development of the plan to ensure it is appropriate and does not expose the employee to further risks.

Control measures

The following control measures may help prevent incidents of family violence in the workplace:

  • Ensure visitors are clearly identified to avoid accidentally allowing a known family violence perpetrator to enter the workplace.
  • Develop and put in place a policy that states your organisation will take steps to protect employees from violence, including family violence, in the workplace.
  • Ensure communication and duress alarm systems are in place.
  • Put in place call screening procedures.
  • Ensure the building or workplace is secure and entry is controlled, for example through swipe card or pin code access.
  • Where possible, separate employees from the public.

The following risk control measures may help respond to incidents of family violence in the workplace:

  • Develop and put in place procedures for an emergency response to instances of family violence in the workplace, including when to involve police.
  • Ensure those in the workplace have a safe, secure room/place to retreat to in the event of a family violence incident.
  • Change email address or phone numbers if instances of family violence have occurred through electronic of telephone contact.

Administrative controls

Administrative controls to help eliminate or reduce the effects of family violence may include allowing the employee:

  • to take leave to address impacts of family violence
  • to change start and finish times or alter their work location where possible

Employers have various opportunities to support employees experiencing family violence. For example, you can consider making family violence leave, flexible work hours and flexible work arrangements, including work locations, available to all employees. These arrangements can help manage the impact of family violence on the employee at work.

The Fair Work Ombudsman can provide more information about flexibility in the workplace

Training and awareness

Raising awareness and training employees about family violence is an important part of a workplace family violence policy.

Training should:

  • aim to help employees understand the purpose of a workplace family violence policy and encourage support for the policy. Training can also ensure an employee who is a victim survivor of family violence is aware that support is available to them in the workplace
  • focus on ways employees can prevent, recognise and/or respond appropriately to an incident of family violence in the workplace
  • be delivered by an appropriate service provider who is aware and knowledgeable in all aspects of family violence in the workplace
  • be delivered to all employees, including human resources staff, HSRs, union delegates and identified family violence contact people from the workplace, and can be tailored to the needs of each audience

Promote and display support services

Organisations should provide employees with information about how to access appropriately qualified professionals for family violence information, referral and support services.

For example you can:

  • display posters in employee breakout rooms or in areas that can be accessed by the public with contact details for local services or anonymous help lines
  • provide information about family violence referral services/employee assistance programs in induction materials
  • include information about family violence in workplace policies and procedures

Note: This guidance material has been prepared using the best information available to WorkSafe, and should be used for general use only. Any information about legislative obligations or responsibilities included in this material is only applicable to the circumstances described in the material. You should always check the legislation referred to in this material and make your own judgement about what action you may need to take to ensure you have complied with the law. Accordingly, WorkSafe cannot be held responsible and extends no warranties as to the suitability of the information for your specific circumstances; or actions taken by third parties as a result of information contained in the guidance material.