Family violence – a workplace issue

The victims of family violence and those who perpetrate it are in workplaces everywhere. What happens at home often has a big impact on what happens at work.

Former president Paula Scholes says research shows that the vast majority of those experiencing family violence are in paid employment. She’s leading a PSA project to raise awareness of family violence as a workplace and a union issue.

“The victims of family violence often say it impacts on their ability to get to work and on their productivity while at work. That makes it a workplace issue and a union issue.

“If we can work with employers to put in place entitlements that assist them remain in work, we improve their situation, assist them to break the cycle of violence, improve workplace productivity and reduce the societal costs of family violence. That’s a win for them and a win for all of us.”

There is international evidence that victims of family violence, who are generally women, have a more disrupted work history, are more likely to be employed in casual or part-time work and as a result are on lower incomes.

This year, PSA Congress held breakfast to allow men to get together and discuss the issue as well as listen to a former abuser relate his personal story. Matthew Jamieson, who attended the breakfast, said it made him think about his role as a delegate.

“For instance, a member who was away for five days because of problems at home could face dismissal. It’s a taboo subject but I think we need to consider what’s happening at home. It would be hard talking to another man about whether there are violent situations at home and programmes that could help. That’s where advice would be useful.”


Safe at work

There have been positive moves across the Tasman which provide a lot of food for thought about what we in New Zealand can do to better support victims of family violence in the workplace.

Ludo McFerran.jpgThe PSA recently hosted Australian academic Ludo McFerran who has been at the forefront of the ‘Safe at Home, Safe at Work’ campaign which enlisted the support of a number of unions.

Ludo spoke to groups of PSA members in Auckland and Wellington and also met with politicians and employers to share her views and experiences.

She spoke passionately about the need for employers and unions to keep victims of family violence in work.

“Staying in employment is critical to reducing the effects of family violence. By supporting victims to remain in paid employment, workplaces can assist victims on their pathway out of violence and keep the whole workplace safer,” she says.


Best practice

The thrust of the Australian campaign has been to include dedicated domestic violence leave clauses in collective agreements – something which has been fully endorsed by the Australian Council of Trade Unions.

One million Australian workers now have access to paid domestic violence leave. Along with specific leave entitlements, there are other domestic violence clauses which protect employees from discrimination on the basis of disclosure of violence, ensure confidentiality and promote access to flexible work arrangements if necessary.

Ludo says the goal is for these types of domestic violence leave clauses to become best practice in all employment contracts. “And unions have the capacity to keep putting it on the agenda,” she adds.

PSA delegate Caz Thomson, who is a social worker at Capital and Coast District Health Board was eager to come along and hear Ludo speak. She said it reinforced for her the need for action.

“Entrenching family violence clauses in collective agreements is a good start but why wait until collective bargaining?” she asks.

“Start bringing it up at meetings in the workplace and with employers; start getting some general workplace policies around family violence. It would be a good chance to tweak any issues before entrenching family violence provisions in collective agreements.”

One organisation in New Zealand has recently done some early trailblazing on the issue. Wellington Rape Crisis, with support from the PSA, has negotiated special leave around family violence into its collective agreement. Staff affected by violence at home are entitled to take up to three days’ paid leave to seek professional help.

Paula says it’s important that family violence is more than an in-house issue. Making it a workplace issue means everyone can take a more active part in better supporting those affected and ultimately preventing and stopping it in its tracks.


Signs at work

Workers who are victims of family violence may:

• Be distressed, depressed, anxious, distracted or fearful at work.

• Need to take time off work to attend court, counselling or doctor’s appointments

• Leave their job because they are hiding from their abuser

• Have a protection order which could have implications for the workplace

• Be getting abusive phone calls or emails at work

• Be facing destruction or vandalism of their cars and property


Workers who are perpetrators of family violence may:

• Pose a risk to the victim’s colleagues

• Pose a risk to workers and clients in their own workplaces

• Use work time and resources to harass, stalk or monitor their victims

• Have a protection order against them

• Need to take time off work to attend court or stopping violence programmes.


This article is from the December 2012 issue of the PSA Journal. You can read back issues of the Journal by clicking here.