Family violence has no boundaries, the effects of abuse don’t simply stop when a person enters their workplace.

Maintaining a job during a period of escalating family violence can be extremely difficult because family violence can impact on attendance, performance, wellbeing and productivity. Disadvantage then occurs when an employee has to use up personal and annual leave to attend to their family violence situation (i.e by moving house, going to refuge, going to court, or accessing other supports), or is unable to concentrate at work due to stress or harassment leading to impaired work performance. Sometimes, a survivor may even have to leave a place of employment due to psychological distress or other family violence related health impacts.

But for some people experiencing family violence, work can be a place of sanctuary, where they are treated with professionalism and respect by colleagues. Employment is also considered a protective factor for a person experiencing family violence, providing social support, access to income, and enhanced likelihood of being approved for alternative accommodation.

My job was my safe place. I knew that I could go to work and be myself, where people appreciated me and treated me with respect. – Amber, family violence survivor.

Yet it is clear that many people experiencing family violence still aren’t comfortable telling their employers about what they are going through. Less than half of women impacted by family violence disclose the violence to colleagues at work, with the reasons given including ‘privacy’, ‘shame and embarrassment’ and ‘fear of dismissal’. (McFerran 2011).

Signs a member of your staff might be experiencing family violence

The following behaviours may be signs that a staff member is experiencing family violence, particularly where the behaviours are unusual, or out of character for that employee

  • Absenteeism or lateness
  • Poor concentration and work-related errors or inconsistent output
  • Injuries such as bruises, black eyes and broken bones, especially if the employee attempts to conceal the injuries or offers unconvincing explanations for how they occurred
  • Requests for extended time off
  • Displays signs of emotional distress, such as unusual quietness and increased isolation from coworkers and unusual or repeated emotional upset during or following contact with the employee’s partner
  • Suggestions or statements by the employee that a former or current partner is engaging in unwanted contact
  • An unusual number of emails, texts, phone calls, etc. from a current or former partner and reluctance by the employee to converse with the partner or respond to messages
  • Abrupt change of address by the employee or a reluctance to divulge where the employee resides
  • Unwelcome visits by the employee’s partner to the workplace, particularly if the visits elicit a strong negative reaction by the employee

What you can do to help

Workplaces have an important role to play in raising awareness about family violence, and creating a workplace culture and environment that promotes non-violent, equitable and respectful gender relations. This can be achieved by developing a workplace strategy that includes:

  • An organisational commitment to gender equality
  • Strategies to keep employees safe in the workplace, and to remove the disadvantage they experience during a period of family violence
  • Supporting employee access to information and services
  • Supporting employee access to paid family violence leave
  • Strategies to prevent family violence in the broader community