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Domestic Violence – the raw nerve that has been hit hard.

Domestic Violence has seemingly skyrocketed into the front and centre of Australians minds in recent years into the category of “behaviour that is no longer acceptable”.

I think most people would agree that Rosie Batty, Australian of the Year, was a huge catalyst in the recognition of how huge this problem is in our society, and how it is no longer acceptable to treat this issue as ‘none of our business’.

In fact, I met Rosie Batty once a few years ago when she was speaking in my local area.  What an inspirational individual she is.

The attitudinal changes also stood out to me when I recently watched some older movies that show scenes of domestic violence…. Scenes of neighbours that quickly scatter back into their homes, trying to either pretend nothing is wrong or that it is simply not something anyone should interfere with.

Domestic violence is now becoming something Australian employers also need to have a greater understanding of as the Fair Work Commission have just made a ruling on the right for employees to take 5 days unpaid Family Violence leave per year.  This applies to all employees, both casual and permanent.  It does not accrue from year to year.  It applies to all businesses – both small and large.

Even the most sympathetic employers may have some challenges with this new entitlement.  Annual leave, personal leave and long service leave already need to be accrued and paid, among all the other overhead costs that most businesses have trouble managing from time to time.

Let’s look at it from a different angle.

Employees do not hang up their emotions with their coat when they first arrive to work.  We all bring in the residue of what has happened at home into the workplace and this can be both good and bad and everything in between.  It effects general performance because in times of high anxiety, people are unable to concentrate as well, are easily distracted and make more mistakes.  It is also more difficult to interact with others effectively which is makes it very hard, particularly in customer service type roles.

For employees experiencing family violence, it is incredibly difficult to function at work on a regular basis when they are suffering so much in their home life.  Often, those employees have the additional worry of the welfare of the safety of their children, family and pets.

People that remove themselves from a situation of family violence are at the most risk when they actually leave.  That is part of the reason why often people don’t leave.

So as employers, the family violence leave may be just what an individual may need to know that there is support from one aspect of his or her life, and might be just the encouragement required to take a deep breath and try and change the situation that person may find themselves in.

The reality of cost on a business to support an employee experiencing personal issues is very real, whether it is domestic violence, divorce, death or illness and anything else that causes an employee to lose the ability to perform their work to their highest potential.

One thing I do know is that an employee that is fairly supported in the workplace through times of crisis will never forget that experience.  This builds trust and loyalty.  It will also increase the chances of the employee really trying hard to do the right thing, rather than feeling hard done by.

And remember, it is never just you watching, other employees are watching as well.  If they see an employer that is being fair and reasonable, that too builds trust and respect from everyone.

If you have an employee that is experiencing family violence at home, consider these things:

  • Scheduled time off to assist with appointments, hearings etc
  • Meeting with the employee individually to acknowledge the situation and offer support
  • Look at an EAP program that gives an employee an option for professional guidance
  • Provide EEO training in the workplace that also touches on domestic violence
  • Look for the signs and offer support, it may need to take a pro-active approach

Written by resident HR Guru Danielle Turner.

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