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Leadership and management

  • When someone is experiencing domestic, family or sexual violence, the physical and/or mental harm can lead to multiple vulnerabilities and safety risks such as homelessness, financial stress, isolation and shame. These heightened risks can impact their wellbeing. It can also have implications for the workplace productivity, performance and colleagues
  • Managers, co-workers and organisations as a whole should know how to respond appropriately and to refer to specialist support services
  • If you would like more information on supporting employees or colleagues experiencing domestic, family or sexual violence, you can call 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732, text 0458 737 732 or visit our website for online chat and video call services:
    • Available 24/7: Call, text or online chat
    • Mon-Fri, 9am-5pm AEST (except national public holidays): Video call (no appointment needed) 

The impacts of domestic, family and sexual violence in the workplace

The stress and emotional toll of experiencing and living with domestic, family and sexual violence can impact on an individual’s productivity, performance and wellbeing. They may be receiving threatening phone calls or emails while they are at work, or fear for their safety on their return home, and feel like they are ‘walking on eggshells’ while in the workplace environment.

This can be the case even when they are no longer living with the perpetrator, as their work location and hours of work may be known to (and exploited by) the person using violence. 
Managers and co-workers are not expected to have all of the answers, however, there is some responsibility for them to check in with a colleague if they are concerned about their safety, and to offer support in the form of assisting them to access a specialist support service (such as 1800RESPECT).

Employees experiencing domestic, family or sexual violence may show signs of:

  • distraction
  • distress (for example, crying)
  • depression
  • anxiety
  • hypervigilance
  • fear.

They may be having trouble concentrating at work or managing deadlines and they may require time off work to obtain protection orders or access supports in efforts to keep themselves and their children safe.

How managers can provide support

Managers can make a real difference to the wellbeing of employees experiencing violence by implementing strategies that demonstrate compassion and flexibility based on the individuals needs and in acknowledgement that domestic, family and sexual violence is not the fault of the person experiencing it.

Examples of supportive strategies include:

  • The offer of training for all staff in their organisation, so that staff can respond appropriately to disclosure, recognise the signs of domestic and family violence, provide appropriate support and know how to refer to more specialist services
  • The availability of a contact person within the organisation, who can support the employee and refer them to relevant services
  • Clear procedures for co-workers to manage disclosures by employees impacted by violence,
  • Policies for supporting employees impacted by violence, including:
    • Domestic violence leave policy
    • Flexible working hours to manage appointments, responsibilities for children
    • Reduced workloads or change of tasks to accommodate employees’ needs during times of crisis

How organisations can provide support

Organisational strategies for responding to people who have been impacted by domestic, family and sexual violence must be considerate of clearly articulating inclusivity, and providing support structures for all employees, including women, men, people with disabilities, people who identify as LGBTI+ and employees from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds.

Organisations have a responsibility to respond appropriately to their staff who may be perpetrators of domestic, family and sexual violence. People using violence may use their work time and resources to threaten, abuse and/or harass others. Examples of these behaviours can include:

  • Constantly ‘checking up’ on the other person or harassing them through emailing, phoning or texting at work 
  • Using work IT systems to access private information that can be used against the individual/family experiencing violence
  • Bullying or being abusive towards other staff or clients
  • Manipulating pay or roster systems to avoid child support or other obligations

Unacceptable behaviour by people who use violence should never be tolerated. Organisations need clearly articulated organisational policies for dealing with unacceptable behaviour in the workplace. These policies need to be compliant with legislation regulating work conditions, domestic and family violence leave entitlements, and employee codes of conduct.

Supporting those responding to domestic, family and sexual violence

Working with people who have experienced domestic, family or sexual violence is complex work, requiring specialist skills and training. Listening to the lived experience of individuals who have lived experience of DFSV and who have been impacted by trauma can be difficult and cause some distress to the person receiving this information. It is important to understand that you can implement boundaries about what is disclosed and what you can hear by providing information and support to access specialist services wo are equipped to respond to these situations. You do not have to be the expert. A kind, calming, and compassionate approach can go a long way.

Policies that focus on employee wellbeing are also important to Ensure that staff feel supported by their workplace and feel safe should they need to raise issues of their experience of domestic, family and sexual violence with their manager or Human Resources.

These, at a minimum include:

  • The development of employee wellbeing plans
  • Access to EAP support through your organisation
  • Regular check-ins to ensure employee wellbeing
  • Championing and being supportive of issues that raise awareness of DFSV in the workplace and indicate that the environment is safe for people to seek support around their experience
  • Ensuring all staff are aware of the organisations domestic and family violence leave policy and who they can confidently and confidentially talk to in the organisation should they be seeking support.

These policies should sit under an overarching staff support framework for employees working with those who are in leadership roles within the organisation or people and culture support positions (including Human Resources).