When work and home collide – family violence in the workplace

Family Violence and Work Collide

What happens at home, stays at home. Right?

Increasingly, we understand that when work and family violence collide, it gets complicated and it’s no longer enough to say that what happens at home is none of the employer’s business.

Let’s talk about Michel Carroll; who died at the hands of her de facto partner, 10 years ago. Michel and her partner had a family business together, which they ran from home.

When she died, the question of the liability of her employer to keep her safe in the workplace became a legal issue. It has taken ten long years to wend its way through the courts. It was eventually found on appeal, that the employer was liable because the violence occurred in their workplace, the home.

Aside from the tragedy of another death in the home, why is this case so important for employers?

Whilst there were some specific things about this case, the two things that should have employers a little worried is that the violence took place at home (the workplace) and outside of normal working hours.

We know that it’s predicted that about 25-30% of people will be working from home in some form or another on an ongoing basis.  We also know that 1 in 6 women and 1 in 20 men report some form of family or domestic violence. Sadly, this is an issue that isn’t going to go away anytime soon, so it’s an issue that employers will have to get their heads around.

Two perspectives to think about

Tackling this issue isn’t something that can be done overnight. It requires thought and nuance. Unfortunately, the COVID pandemic has meant that remote working was put in place quickly and without much planning. Family violence in the workplace was probably far from most employer’s minds when they were putting things in place.

Workplace Culture and Leadership

Perhaps counter intuitively, the first element to consider is what sort of culture the organisation has. The vulnerability that employees feel in disclosing this sort of aspect of their lives cannot be overstated. Consider whether there is a culture that is overt about vulnerability, or whether it’s a macho environment (or one that celebrates the disrespect of women).

What is the shadow of your leadership? What does your leadership say about where you stand on this issue, personally and organisationally?

Risk Management / Health and Safety

Risk is no longer just about having an ergonomic chair or table, a proper risk assessment is making sure that your employee is safe in their working environment, whether this is at the actual workplace or at home.

It’s also not about doing spot checks where, as an employer, you randomly knock on the door at 6am to check that nothing untoward is going on.

It needs to be a process that allows employees to safely answer:

Is your home a safe place for you to work?

And of course, if the employee indicates that their home is not safe due to family violence, there needs to be a system in place to support the person.

Supporting your employees

Firstly and critically, have a well considered approach to the issue. It’s complicated and not something you want to do on the fly. Get good advice on this from people who know what they are doing. It’s not just a matter of writing it into the policy handbook and leaving it at that. There are some well established and respected not for profits and other agencies that do this stuff all day every day, and who can assist.

This means having a support process and structure in place more generally. This will include of course, a well documented policy on the issue, including leave arrangements.

It will probably mean making sure that all managers and those in key positions are properly trained. Importantly, this doesn’t mean being a counsellor.

The well meaning “you should leave him” or “I wouldn’t be able to stay” or “what about your children” can be damaging and dangerous advice.

Managers should be able to:

  • Compassionately listen
  • Show you believe the person
  • Take the disclosure seriously
  • Let the person know about local services
  • Offer practical support

There are a number of support services with specifically trained counsellors available 24 hours a day.   Refer the employee to one of these – they know what to say and how to appropriately assist.

Women’s Domestic Violence Helpline          08 9223 1188                                            1800 007 339

Men’s Domestic Violence Helpline                 08 9223 1199                                            1800 000 599

1800 RESPECT                                                       http://www.1800respect.org.au       1800 737 732



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Thanks to Moores.com.au for use of the image

Tammy Tansley
I am a coffee loving, energetic human who loves words, bright colours and spots, silly t'shirts and good champagne. Mum to two beautiful mischiefs. Long time wanderer around the world. Author. Blogger. Speaker.

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