Family violence and workplaces

What happens at home can affect what happens at work.

Family Violence - It's not OK. It is OK to ask for help.

Each year, the government spends around $1.4 billion on family violence. It’s also estimated it costs nearly $50m a year to the state as an employer.

In a year, about half of New Zealand organisations will have staff affected by family violence in some way.  (source: PSA)

Doing something about family violence in the workplace acknowledges that our working lives are affected by our home lives. It’s not just up to social service providers and the justice system - everyone can provide support.

If there’s physical or emotional abuse happening in a person’s life, their employer can and should help. The workplace is a logical place to break through isolation and offer support. This is increasingly recognised overseas. In Australia, Canada and the UK, large private sector employers and central and local government employers include support packages in their collective employment agreements.  

Family violence hurts victims at work by leaving them distressed, anxious and fearful. They may need to take time off work or leave their job. They may have protection orders put in place that could have implications for their work, or their abuser may stop them from doing their job. Victims who have left an abusive partner often have difficulty finding or keeping jobs, which affects their ability to provide for their families.

Perpetrators pose a risk to their victim’s colleagues but also to staff and clients in their own workplace. They may use work resources and time to harass and stalk their victims. They may also need to take time off to attend court or rehabilitation programmes.

Staying in work is crucially important for victims of family violence. A reliable income means victims have more choices.  A supportive working environment is also important.  For employers it makes good business sense, but it’s also the right thing to do.  Employers who back anti-violence programmes, educate staff and offer support to victims send a clear message that domestic violence is not OK.


  • 1 in 3 women say they’ve experienced physical or sexual abuse by a partner
  • Around half of violent crime and homicides in New Zealand are family violence
  • Police attend a family violence incident every 7 minutes
  • The cost to New Zealand is estimated to be around $8 billion a year
    (source: It’s not OK campaign)

Firstly, you need to know you are not alone. In 2013 the PSA surveyed our members about their experiences. More than half (55%) said they’d experienced domestic violence either in their own lives or through someone they knew. A quarter (26%) had personally experienced it, and more than half were in paid employment at the time.

Less than half of the respondents said they’d discussed the violence with someone at work. But of those who had, two-thirds said they’d had a positive outcome including paid time off work. 

It is okay to ask your employer for help. Under the Health and Safety at Work Act, your employer is required to identify and manage risks to your health and safety. This includes psychological risks and could include protecting you from another person’s behaviour. 

Things you can ask your employer for:

  • Paid leave or flexible working to accommodate doctors’ visits, legal proceedings and so on;
  • Safety plans, including screening calls, changing your email address, having someone walk you to your carpark, flexible working if you need to vary start and finish times to avoid harassment, telling staff not to reveal personal information to callers about you, giving your front desk a photo of your abuser so they can prevent them harassing you at work;
  • Help through your workplace’s Employee Assistance Programme.

Your PSA delegate or the Organising Centre will be able to support you in your approach to your employer.

You should include your workplace in any protection orders you apply for.

You can access more resources at the It’s Not OK website: 

Who Can Help?

Women’s Refuge 0800 733 843

Shine 0508 744 633

Te Kupenga Whakaoti Mahi Patunga

It takes courage to admit you have a problem, and even more to change it. But there is no excuse for violence. 

Family violence isn’t just about hitting. It includes other behaviour that makes people frightened – like controlling them, putting them down, making threats and harassing people.

This can spill over to affect others. If you are violent towards your partner, you may pose a risk to their colleagues. You may also be a risk to staff and clients at your own workplace. 

Family violence can affect your work. If your colleagues feel at risk, there may be a complaint made against you. That could also happen if you use work time and resources to stalk, harass and monitor your victim. If you need to take time off to attend court, go to treatment programmes or are found guilty of an offence, this will also affect your job.

You are not alone. There are many people who are turning their lives around, rebuilding their relationships and families. It is possible to change. 

Who can help

Man Alive 

Safe Network

We work alongside our colleagues every day, and that means we’re often the first to notice something’s not right. 

If you notice a colleague becoming withdrawn, depressed or fearful; distracted and less able to cope; not turning up to work, being late or not wanting to go home – you should feel free to reach out to them.

The It’s Not OK campaign suggests the following questions:

  • Is someone hurting you or making you feel scared?
  • Do you feel unsafe at home?
  • Are you OK?

You can let them know you support them:

  • It’s not OK that you are being hurt.
  • It’s not your fault.
  • When you’re ready I’m here.

If they get angry or reject you:

  • It’s not personal. Back off, and let them know you are there if they need you.
  • Keep in touch. Say hello, ask how they are, offer to babysit.
  • Don’t give up.

While respecting your workmate’s confidentiality, you could let them know what support your workplace offers – or help them develop a safety plan.

If you think someone you work with is being violent towards their partner, challenge their behaviour – not the person.

You could say things like:

  • Do you need to talk?
  • It’s not OK your kids are scared of you.
  • Can I help?

The sooner you reach out, the sooner people can get help.

A survey of the PSA’s members showed more than half of respondents had experience of family violence, either in their own lives or through someone they knew.  Of those who’d personally experienced it, more than half said they needed to take time off work.

As collective employment agreements expire, the PSA’s consistently asking employers to put in place workplace supports for those subject to family violence.

The PSA has drafted a sample clause for inclusion in collective agreements here.

Delegates may be approached by PSA members for help. You can refer them to this section, the Organising Centre or the It’s Not OK website

Consult Health and Safety officers and make sure they’re aware of where to access resources, especially about personal safety plans. The Shine website has useful information:

Use the union noticeboard to put up posters for It’s Not OK and other support services – and leave a supply of pamphlets in staff kitchens or tearooms. You can access free resources in this section. and from It’s Not OK.

Assess how well your workplace handles family violence concerns and encourage employers to do better.

This might include:

  • Training for health and safety officers in how to recognise warning signs.  They should read and discuss the steps on the It’s Not OK website
  • Inviting speakers to talk about family violence, positive parenting, healthy relationships
  • Including information about family violence in work newsletters
  • Ensuring the workplace privacy policy will protect victims adequately
  • Making sure that the Employee Assistance Programme expressly includes family violence and practitioners who are skilled in dealing with it

Putting in place support systems for victims of family violence shows you treat your employees as people – not just numbers. But it also makes good business sense. Research has proved that domestic violence support saves employers money – and increases productivity. (NZ Family Violence Clearinghouse Issues Paper 7, 2014

Lots of factors can stop people from asking for help, including a fear they will not be believed or might lose their job. Businesses that put support programmes in place will help increase people’s understanding of family violence and make it OK for people to ask for help.

The PSA is encouraging employers to add a domestic violence clause to collective agreements, guaranteeing 10 days paid leave to help victims attend legal proceedings, medical appointments and so on. Other types of clause include commitments to provide access to flexible working, safety planning and counselling.

The Warehouse Group, which includes retailers Noel Leeming and Warehouse Stationery, has committed to 10 days paid leave for its 12,000 staff. There are various types of clauses in collective agreements across the PSA’s membership, including the Government Communications Security Bureau, GNS Science, Taupo and Hastings District Councils and HHL Group.

Employers can take a number of other steps towards raising awareness about family violence:

  • Make posters, booklets and information readily available for your staff
  • Make a public commitment to staff safety and security
  • Donate goods or services to local groups, or assist with fundraising
  • Train key staff, including managers, HR and health and safety advisors
  • Develop workplace policies and procedures, including plans for how to respond to concerns – and confidentiality arrangements

It’s also good to check if your business’s Employee Assistance Programme provider offers family violence counselling and assistance. 

Under the Health And Safety At Work Act, businesses have a duty to manage work-related risks that are within their ability to influence and control, as far as reasonably possible. 

If a worker is suffering stress or psychological trauma due to family violence, this might represent a risk. If the employer is aware of this, it has a responsibility to manage this.

Any threats of violence should be taken seriously, including threats from current or former partners or family members.

This might include the following:

  • Preparing an action plan – including recording all incidents, taking measures like changing jobs or work systems, planning support for victims;
  • Specialist assistance from police or security agents may be needed;
  • As a last resort, personal alarms or self-defence training.

How can I support staff?

  • Make a safety plan
  • Referral to support agencies
  • Allow time off or flexible working
  • Screen calls
  • Move desks or offices

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