Workplaces can't ignore domestic violence issues

Domestic violence is increasingly being recognised as an issue to be managed in the workplace, with researchers describing it is a "significant form of workplace violence" and a Fair Work commissioner upholding a domestic violence victim's unfair dismissal claim recently.

Why it is a workplace issue

Employers urgently need to develop specific workplace interventions for both victims and perpetrators of domestic violence (DV), the researchers say, after finding in a survey of 8429 Canadians that 34 per cent (2831) of them had experienced it.

Some seven per cent (547) were currently experiencing DV, three per cent (277) experienced it in the last 12 months (but not currently), and 32 per cent (2654) had DV experience dating more than 12 months back, they found.

More than half of DV victims (1515) said the violence continued near or at their workplace, through abusive phone calls or text messages and stalking, for example.

Other work-related domestic violence included threats, where an abuser threatened to go to the workplace, and emotional abuse, such as telling the victim that co-workers didn't respect them.

Most victims (82%) said domestic violence negatively affected their work performance, mainly through being distracted or feeling tired or unwell, while nine per cent (242) reported losing a job as a result of the issue, the study found.

It found 40 per cent (1119) of victims took time off work for reasons such as dealing with health issues related to the violence and attending counselling.

"DV has a significant impact on workers and workplaces and is therefore a significant form of 'workplace violence'," the researchers said.

They said employers should educate workers on domestic violence, and develop and test "specific protocols and tools to protect and support victims and intervene with perpetrators".

My article on OHS Alert, which has been unlocked for non-subscribers, contains more tips on what to do about DV at work.

What NOT to do when a worker is a domestic violence victim

An employer that forced a domestic violence victim to resign has been ordered to pay her $27,500, in a case that "highlights the dangers of employers going for the 'quick fix' rather than dealing with the complexity of domestic violence".

The Fair Work Commission decision showed the employer "had every opportunity to support the victim [and] allow her to continue in her employment, which she desperately needed", but instead reinforced a "blame the victim" culture, said Job Watch executive director Zana Bytheway, whose organisation represented the victim in her unfair dismissal claim.

On 19 January 2015, the Eliana Construction and Developing Group Pty Ltd architectural draftsperson was the victim of domestic violence.

An intervention order was issued against the worker's then-partner - who was also employed by Eliana and worked in the same open-plan office - requiring him not to "approach or remain within three metres" of the worker.

The worker resigned from her employment three days after the incident, when Eliana's director told her he couldn't allow both her and her partner to work in the office because he couldn't protect her, and stressed that he wouldn't dismiss her partner.

She claimed unfair dismissal, but the employer argued her resignation was voluntary.

Commissioner Julius Roe rejected this claim, finding the director effectively told the worker she could no longer work for Eliana, and that resigning would help her employment prospects.

"I am satisfied that [the worker] was dismissed," he said.

He added that the intervention order was designed to allow the worker to continue working for Eliana without her partner contacting or communicating with her, and wouldn't have prevented normal work from occurring as "they did not have to directly engage as part of a work project".

"I accept that there are limits to the extent to which an employer can be expected to accommodate the private lives of employees," he said.

"Ultimately employees have to be capable of performing the inherent requirements of their jobs.

"When seeking to accommodate the reasonable needs of employees the impact on the business will be a consideration.

"However, I am satisfied that Eliana did not explore all available options and discuss these matters over a reasonable period of time with those affected."

Commissioner Roe ordered the employer to pay the worker $27,500 - the maximum amount of compensation allowable under s392 of the Fair Work Act.

Job Watch's Bytheway said employers "need to understand the complexities of domestic violence and have policies and procedures in place to enable them to support victims".

(OHS Alert subscribers can read the full story here, or you can start a trial subscription to gain access.)

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