Responding to family violence when employees work from home during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic

This guidance provides information to help employers understand their duties to respond to family violence during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

Restrictions apply in metropolitan Melbourne and regional Victoria

Depending on your industry your workplace may:

  • be required to be closed for onsite work
  • remain open for onsite work with a completed COVIDSafe Plan or High Risk COVIDSafe Plan
  • be subject to restricted operations or industry specific obligations.

These restrictions may be updated at any time. You must stay up to date with any changes for your industry.

How are my OHS obligations impacted by the restrictions?

There is no change to your obligations under the Occupational Health and Safety Act 2004 (OHS Act) and Occupational Health and Safety Regulations 2017 (OHS Regulations) as a result of the restrictions.

Preparation of a COVIDSafe Plan forms part of the development of a safe system of work, however having a COVIDSafe Plan and complying with Chief Health Officer Directions does not necessarily mean you have complied with your duties under the OHS Act and OHS Regulations.

You must follow any health directions that apply to how your business must operate as well as ensure that you are meeting your obligations under the OHS Act. Employees must also comply with their duties under the OHS Act.

What is family violence?

  • physical and sexual abuse
    • threats and intimidation
      • psychological, emotional and social abuse
        • coercive or controlling behaviour
          • economic deprivation

            It also includes any of these behaviours where a child may hear or witness, or otherwise be exposed to, the effects of these behaviours.

            Family violence includes one or more of these forms of behaviour by an individual against a family member or someone with whom they have, or have had, an intimate relationship. A family member also includes any other person who may be regarded as being like a family member, having regard to the circumstance of the relationship, such as social and emotional ties, home environment, kinship and cultural relationship as an extension of family, or provision of care whether paid or unpaid.

            Family violence can occur in any kind of family structure, including between adult children and their elderly parents, siblings and in lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and gender diverse, intersex, queer and questioning, and asexual (LGBTIQA+) relationships. Anyone, regardless of gender, age, socio-economic status, sexual orientation or ethnicity, can experience family violence.

            Perpetrators

            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.

            Family Violence and Coronavirus (COVID-19)

            Research has shown that during a period of emergency, family violence can become more frequent and severe, or even occur for the first time. Family violence is never acceptable, no matter the circumstances or situation.

            The workplace may be a place of safety and support for people experiencing family violence. While requiring employees to work from home is important to help slow the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19), it may increase the risk of family violence due to increased exposure to perpetrators and reduced opportunities to access support.

            If your employee or independent contractor is at risk of family violence, working at home during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic may not be safe.

            Employer duties

            Employers must provide and maintain a working environment that is safe and without risks to health and safety for employees, including independent contractors, so far as is reasonably practicable.

            This includes risks to employees’ health and safety that may be introduced when an employee works from home, such as family violence.

            Employers must:

            • identify hazards in the workplace
              • assess the risk of physical and psychological harm associated with the hazard
                • implement measures to eliminate or control the risks associated, so far as is reasonably practicable

                  Employers must also consult with employees and health and safety representatives (HSRs) on matters related to health or safety that directly affect, or are likely to directly affect them, so far as is reasonably practicable. This includes consulting on decisions about working from a location other than the usual workplace, and the associated risks and control measures.

                  It may not always be possible to identify ahead of time whether employees may be at risk of experiencing family violence, however, employers should understand the warning signs and know how to respond.

                  Identifying hazards

                  Potential hazards for people at risk of family violence include:

                  • increased exposure to perpetrators, due to the home becoming a workplace
                    • reduced opportunities for victim survivors to access support, for example, being unable to access unmonitored technology, less opportunity to engage with usual support systems and increased caring responsibilities
                      • lack of opportunities for employees to confidentially disclose if they do not feel safe working from home
                        • lack of awareness and information about family violence in the workplace
                          • insufficient or non-existent workplace procedures to address and respond to family and domestic violence

                            Controlling risks

                            Control measures may include:

                            • developing a workplace policy that supports employees experiencing family violence, particularly when working from home. This should be done in consultation with employees and any Health and Safety Representatives (HSRs)
                              • providing ongoing education and awareness about family violence in your workplace
                                • regularly asking employees how they are going while working from home and encouraging them to discuss any health and safety concerns they may have with you
                                  • providing opportunities for employees to confidentially disclose if they do not feel safe working from home, for example by arranging a safe and private time to talk with you, or with an appointed family violence contact person if your workplace has one
                                    • offering those at risk of family violence an alternative to working at home, such as at the workplace or elsewhere
                                      • providing work phones and laptops to enhance autonomy and digital security
                                        • providing information on where employees can get help for family violence

                                          Identifying signs of family violence

                                          It can be difficult to recognise the signs that an employee may be experiencing family violence, especially when employees are working remotely.

                                          Some common warning signs may include:

                                          • appearing afraid of, or anxious about a partner, family member, or about being isolated at home with a partner or family member
                                            • general anxiety
                                              • unexplained physical injuries
                                                • excessive absence or lateness
                                                  • frequent or unusual work breaks, or unusual start and finish times that are not attributable to a known cause
                                                    • long or unexplained periods where they are unable to be contacted
                                                      • appearing distracted, depressed or jumpy
                                                        • lack of concentration or difficulty making decisions

                                                          Individual or general warning signs may not mean that an employee is experiencing family violence. However if you suspect that an employee may be experiencing family violence, then it may be appropriate for you to raise your concerns with the employee.

                                                          Responding to disclosures of family violence

                                                          Employers must ensure their decisions and actions do not compromise the employee’s safety.

                                                          In an emergency or immediate danger

                                                          Employees should contact 000 in the event of an emergency or if there are circumstances of immediate danger.

                                                          It is important that employers do not:

                                                          • treat anyone affected by family violence negatively
                                                            • take actions before consulting with the affected employee (unless required by law)
                                                              • discuss or share personal information without the employee's permission (unless required by law)
                                                                • pressure employees for details or tell employees what to do

                                                                  If an employee discloses family violence, employers may:

                                                                  • provide practical support by asking how you can help
                                                                    • develop a workplace safety plan, in consultation with the employee, which could include:
                                                                      • making daily video calls
                                                                      • emails to check-in on their safety
                                                                      • agreeing on a 'safe word' to signal that the employee needs help
                                                                      • agreeing on a course of action if you are not able to contact the employee for a defined period
                                                                      • Workplace safety plans should be completed by an appropriately trained manager or HR and employee.
                                                                    • communicate internal support services available, for example, employee assistance programs and family violence leave, if available
                                                                      • communicate external support services available, for example, emergency services and family violence support services
                                                                        • identify ways to communicate with employees confidentially and safely
                                                                          • find an appropriate service to refer to for support
                                                                            • let your employee know you are available and willing to have further discussions with them, and to offer support.

                                                                              Emergency and specialist services

                                                                              In an emergency or immediate danger

                                                                              Employees should contact 000 in the event of an emergency or if there are circumstances of immediate danger.

                                                                              Specialist helplines and services are also available, where confidential help can be sought.