How domestic violence impacts the workplace and what you can do to help

By Jo Gazzola | 23 May 2019 View comments

How can franchise businesses make a difference to employees who are experiencing domestic violence?

Did you know that one in three women and one in five men have experienced at least one incident of violence from a current or former partner since they were aged 15?  Or that between 2014 and 2016 there were 264,028 domestic violence incidents reported and recorded?

These domestic violence statistics are staggering and, even aside from the trauma on a personal level, there is bound to be an impact in the workplace too given that the majority of victims are simultaneously trying to hold down jobs or manage businesses.

Figures demonstrate the negative impacts and real costs that flow on from members of the business community who are living with domestic violence. A report by KPMG in 2016 found that violence against women is costing the Australian economy $22 billion per year.

This is not just a personal or a social issue. It affects workplaces across the country. More needs to be done at work to support victims, whether business owners or employees.

How does domestic violence impact a franchise business?

Any franchise business will notice the impact of failing to tackle the effects of domestic violence on people in the organisation, whether these are franchisees or staff employed by them.

Such an issue is bound to affect day-to-day operations and therefore the financial performance of the business.

These negative impacts on the workplace can include increased absenteeism, poor performance, higher staff turnover and inappropriate behaviour – none of which promote a productive working culture.

It may also have a knock-on effect on the employees, who may be impacted by the behaviour of a colleague or employer who is struggling in their personal life.

So, from a moral and a business point of view, it makes sense to act quickly when problems are identified. Symptoms to look out for are nervousness, evasiveness, anxiety and withdrawal, regular lateness, frequent leave requests, time for personal calls and self-neglect.

And rather than discipline, the most productive long-term response is to understand the implications of violence to victims, including long term social, psychological and financial damage.  Victims usually are in fear of their lives and have difficulty leaving the violent relationship. A franchisor or franchisee, as an employer, may be able to help provide support.

What can franchisors and franchisees do to help?

In December last year the Government made an amendment to the Fair Work Act 2009. It includes an entitlement to unpaid family and domestic violence leave as part of the NES (National Employment Standards) for all employees, including those who are part-time and casual.

Franchisors and franchisees can also help in the workplace by supporting victims, reducing the impact on the business in the process. Management should consider a duty of care to their employees regarding health and wellbeing and implement policies and procedures as the first starting point.

This is a challenging aspect of management. However, employees need to be able to speak privately, without fear of judgement, and should feel confident that speaking up about domestic violence will not adversely affect their employment.

The benefits of a domestic violence leave policy

Every company should have a policy in place and a process for how it will be applied. In addition, your health & safety and harassment & bullying policies should be up to date, to include clauses related to domestic violence, the victim’s health and wellbeing, and relevant security issues.

The benefits of such an approach will be many, including:

  • clarity on roles and responsibilities within the policy
  • setting out what support will be provided for employees
  • clear guidance on the process for applying domestic violence leave
  • information on what external support is available
  • requirements for documentation needed to access leave
  • improved mental health and wellbeing of victims
  • a safe workplace for all employees
  • encouraging victims to speak up without fear of discrimination.

Education and training

Business owners should take the lead in building awareness of domestic violence and its impacts in the workplace. Training will help other employees understand how to recognise any issues and the challenges their colleagues may be facing.

Flexible work arrangement provisions

Franchisors and franchisees should consider flexible work arrangements as part of the support they provide to employees impacted by domestic violence.  Arrangements should be properly documented, with a management policy in place.

External support

You may have external support such as Employee Assistance Program (EAP) that the employee can access or, alternatively, you may provide information on agencies that can help.

Safety plan

Safety plans could be appropriate for your workplace.  You may want to document unwelcomed visits from partners and how these will be dealt with.  The safety plan can form part of your health & safety policy or procedures.

Providing supportive environments for employees does require investment – of time and money – but the positive benefits include higher morale, fewer performance issues and higher attendance, leading to greater productivity.

It’s most likely that you lack the time and expertise to develop your policies and necessary training programmes. If so, an experienced HR professional can help.