Responding to Family and Domestic Violence: Guidance for Managers
Family and domestic violence affects children, families and the community and has a significant impact on all areas of a person’s life. Because of this it is important that family and domestic violence is not only seen as a personal or private issue. The University recognises the responsibility to support staff experiencing family and domestic violence.
People living with family and domestic violence, often experience heightened financial stress, homelessness, isolation, vulnerability and even a sense of shame. The University understands that staff experiencing the impacts of family and domestic violence require support and guidance from their manager to continue to fulfil their obligations at work.
Domestic and family violence is defined as violent, abusive or bullying behaviour used to scare or control a partner or former partner. This causes physical and psychological harm and fear. These incidents can happen at home or outside the home. Violence that occurs between family members and extended family is termed family violence.
How to respond
When becoming aware of an incident the first step is to identify if there is a serious immediate threat to a staff member. In these circumstances the police should be immediately contacted.
There are a number of practical steps a manger can take if you suspect a staff member is affected by family or domestic violence:
- Discuss the workplace entitlements that are available to them and where to find information. (flexible working arrangements)
- Ask the staff member if you should consider implementing safety measures to ensure the workplace is safe. You could consider screening the employee’s incoming calls, blocking emails, changing a phone number, or changing working hours or location.
- Discuss where to find relevant information and help. Ensure the staff member knows how to access the family and domestic violence webpages for internal and external support.
- It is important to remember that all of the information you are discussing with your staff member is kept confidential.
Tips for conversations
If you initiated a conversation or an employee confided in you, it’s important to stay calm and respond in a reassuring way. It is important for managers to acknowledge that it is difficult to discuss the personal impact of family or domestic violence.
Here are some helpful things to remember when responding.
- Ensure that your response is calm, measured, and reassuring.
- Any disclosures must be taken seriously and indicate that you believe the information they sharing with you.
- Tell them that violence is never ok and it is not their fault.
- Put safety first– if you are concerned for their safety, say so. Check for an immediate threat.
- Be aware of how the employee’s cultural and linguistic background could affect their understanding of what family and domestic violence is.
- Offer support and ask what sort of support you may be able to provide for them at work. Discuss practical steps outlined in the ‘How to respond’ section.
- It is important that managers refer staff to professional services who can provide the level of support required and managers do not seek to undertake a counselling role themselves.
- Reassure them that the discussion will be kept confidential.
- Provide information about flexible working arrangements, entitlements as indicated in the Enterprise Agreement (page 45, 4.4 Family Violence Leave) and the Family and Domestic Violence webpage.
- Provide information about support services available. These can be found on our Family and Domestic Violence webpages for internal and external support.
- Make sure that you make time to follow up with your staff member and continue to provide support.
Signs of family and domestic violence
Being able to recognise the signs of family and domestic violence is important in order to provide support early on. Early support for staff impacted by family and domestic violence provides a better chance of staff remaining employed and productive at work. This is highly beneficial for maintaining the individual’s independence, health and wellbeing. This will also benefit you and your team by maintaining performance and team cohesion.
If you are concerned about a staff member, it is appropriate to discuss this with them in order to provide early support within the workplace. Being mindful of the guidance around “how to respond’ and ‘Tips for conversations’ will further support successful conversations. Managers are well equipped to guide staff to the appropriate resources, discuss changes to working patterns and consider flexible working options. It’s important that managers understand that their role does not require skills in counselling staff, and are best placed to refer staff to professional services. Managers and staff can access the University EAP service.
Last year Alice was experiencing domestic violence at home and had a difficult time coping with it while at work. She decided not to tell her manager or co-workers because she felt ashamed.
Her husband repeatedly called her workplace demanding that Alice be put on the phone. She was often late to work because her husband blocked her exit and started arguments with her. When she was at work she constantly thought about how to manage her husband when she got home. She was making mistakes because she was distracted and tired and started to worry that all these things would start to jeopardise her job.
Fortunately, Alice’s manager, Jill, had received training in dealing with family and domestic violence in the workplace and noticed that Alice wasn’t okay. She asked Alice if something at home was making things difficult for her at the moment. This provided Alice with a safe space to talk to Jill about what was happening and share her concerns about how it could impact her job.
Jill let Alice know what the company could do to protect her while at work. This included screening phone calls, making arrangements to ensure Alice’s workload was manageable and that these changes had minimal impact on her team. Jill also provided Alice with information about her rights at work and contact information for support services available to her in her community.
Jill’s information and support reassured Alice that her job was safe. It also empowered her to seek the help she needed outside work.
(The above case study is taken from the Fair Work Ombudsman webpages: www.fairwork.gov.au )
What are your legal responsibilities as a manager?
Staff can access a number of entitlements under the Fair Work Act. Staff impacted by family and domestic violence can:
- take unpaid family and domestic violence leave
- request flexible working arrangements
- take paid or unpaid personal/carer’s leave, in certain circumstances.
Unpaid family and domestic violence leave
Staff (including casual and part-time employees) are entitled to 5 days of unpaid family and domestic violence leave each 12 month period. This leave:
- does not accumulate from year to year if unused.
- is available in full when an employee starts working at a new workplace
- renews in full at the start of each 12 month period of employment
- can be taken as a single continuous period or separate periods of one or more days.
Seek advice from your HR Advisor to discuss options to negotiate with staff seeking to take less than one day at a time, or to take more than 5 days of leave.
Paid family and domestic violence leave
The University of Adelaide Enterprise Agreement 2017 -2021 states in section 4.4.3:
“A staff member experiencing family violence may apply for up to five (5) days Family Violence Leave per calendar year by accessing up to three (3) days Special Paid Leave (under clause 4.8) and up to two (2) days additional paid leave.”
(Casual staff are not eligible for paid Family Violence Leave)
When can employees take unpaid family and domestic violence leave?
Employees can take leave when:
- experiencing family and domestic violence
- there is a need to deal with the impact of that violence
- it's impractical to do so outside their ordinary hours of work.
For example, this could include:
- making arrangements for their safety or the safety of a close relative, such as a dependent child (including relocation).
- attending urgent court hearings, or
- accessing police services.
The University of Adelaide Enterprise Agreement 2017 -2021 states in section 4.4.4:
“Without limiting the reasons for taking leave to assist staff members to deal with family violence, Family Violence Leave may be used for purposes such as attending medical and counselling appointments, attending to legal matters, seeking safe housing or other activities related to dealing with family violence.”
Notice and evidence
Staff impacted by family and domestic violence are required to inform their manager as soon as possible if they intend to take leave. It is not always possible to notify a manager in advance (depending on the circumstances), and therefore managers must be mindful that they may be notified of leave after it has commenced. Staff will need to communicate with their manager on the duration of leave.
A manager may ask for evidence of their leave, which may include
- documents issued by the police
- documents issued by a court
- family violence support service documents, or
- a statutory declaration.
Confidentiality throughout the process is important in ensuring the health, safety and wellbeing of staff facing family and domestic violence. This includes viewing applications for leave, evidence that has been supplied in support of leave, and any communication and correspondence. Information relating to a staff member’s experience of family and domestic violence is highly sensitive. Mismanagement of information can result in significant consequences for the staff member including serious injury or harm by the perpetrator.
The University of Adelaide Enterprise Agreement 2017 -2021 states in section 4.4.6:
“The staff member’s personal information concerning family violence will be kept confidential in line with relevant University policies and procedures and applicable legislation.”
Support for managers
Navigating your way through difficult situations and supporting staff can be stressful for managers. Your HR Advisor will be able to provide you with additional support. Please remember to consider your own well being. The University has an excellent Employee Assistance Program designed to specifically support staff including managers through difficult times at home and at work.
The above information is based on information from the Employer Guide to Family and Domestic Violence found on the Fair Work Ombudsman webpages (© Fair Work Ombudsman www.fairwork.org.au and created under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 .
© State of New South Wales (Department of Communities and Justice)