Family violence: a workplace issue

Like it or not, family violence is a workplace issue. Two reports, one commissioned by the PSA, the other based on a survey of PSA members, provide shocking evidence of the extent of family violence and its impact on the workplace and the people who work there.

Both reports show that workplace protections would not only help the victims of family violence, but would have substantial benefits for employers.

The survey of PSA members found that 26 percent of respondents were subjected to violence by abusive partners and it had a big impact on their working life.

The PSA has negotiated workplace protections in two collective agreements but they are now quite common in Australia. They provide additional time off to deal with things like going to court or to see a lawyer. Good employers also put systems in place to keep staff safe while they are at work.

The reports show the need for these protections in all workplaces.

The Impacts of Domestic Violence on Workers and the Workplace by Margaret Thomas is a report on how family violence affects work and what needs to be done. 1600 PSA members, mainly women, took part in the survey that contributed to the research.

Many respondents said abuse at home affected their work: they would arrive late, feeling anxious, distracted and unwell. More than half said they needed to take time off work to recover, see a doctor, go to court, or see a counsellor. Even getting to work could be difficult with some prevented from leaving the house.

Most said they had not told anyone at work about the abuse.

Victims of family violence have a more disrupted work history and change jobs more frequently, often because they are hiding from the abuser. Even while at work, they may be harassed and threatened by repeated phone calls and text messages.


Big costs

In a report prepared for the PSA, economist Suzanne Sniveley estimates that family violence will cost employers at least $368 million this year alone.

The report – Productivity Gains from Workplace Protection of Victims of Domestic Violence – says there is a growing body of evidence that shows the costs are reduced and productivity increases when are supports and protections in place for the victims of family violence.

The Employers and Manufacturers Association has come out in support of the findings, saying that apart from the “terrible personal trauma”, there was a practical employers’ point of view.

“If you've got a good person who's living through that, then their productivity is affected."

Both reports agree on the need for workplace policies and practices that support and protect the victims of family violence, and actively help them stay in employment. As Suzanne Sniveley says, “security of employment enables those affected to maintain domestic and economic stability, assisting them to find a pathway out of violence and to re-build their lives.”

This sentiment is mirrored in a bill tabled by Green MP Jan Logie designed to support victims stay in paid employment. As a private member’s bill it has an uncertain future but it will raise the debate and add its weight to the push for change.

This article is from the June 2014 issue of the PSA Journal. You can read back issues of the Journal by clicking here.