Domestic Violence in the Workplace
Domestic violence was treated by workplaces as personal, now it's a $2b business problem
Reproduced from the ABC News Site
Kristy McKellar wishes her former employer had helped her when she was trying to leave a situation of family violence.(ABC News: Michael Barnett)
It takes, on average, seven attempts to leave an abusive relationship and about $18,000 and 141 hours to extricate oneself.
But what if your employer helped you escape the situation?
Kristy McKellar wishes she had the support of her employer when she was trying to leave her former partner years ago.
"I was in a very violent and abusive relationship for a period of almost four years," she tells ABC News.
"During that time, I experienced very traumatic and extreme abuse and that ranged from physical to emotional, psychological, sexual and financial abuse.
"The assaults ranged from being spat on, I had hot and cold drinks poured over me. I was driven recklessly in vehicles and called vulgar names, as well as sexist remarks. And, obviously, the physical assaults.
"When the physical violence would occur, it was very calculative. He would strike me to parts of my body that he knew I could cover."
Family violence survivor and clinician Kristy McKellar says workplaces need to do more to address the problem of domestic violence. (Michael Barnett, ABC News.)
The Champions of Change Coalition draws on leaders from the public and private sector to advocate against gender inequality.
It has spent the past six years drawing on advice from people like Ms McKellar and former Australian of the Year Rosie Batty on how workplaces can help fight the problem.
Its report released today calls on workplaces to do more, saying domestic violence is a workplace health and safety issue that leads to staff absenteeism and lower productivity and is estimated cost to businesses about $2 billion annually.
It calls for a raft of policies from paid leave to cash advances and free counselling to help staff that want to leave the situation, while also calling on employers to stop perpetrators using work resources to carry out the abuse.
An endemic problem
In Australia, 62 per cent of women who have experienced or are currently experiencing domestic and family violence are in the paid workforce.
And, while men can also be victims of domestic violence, it is mainly a crime perpetrated by men against women.
The statistics show the problem is endemic, one woman is killed every nine days by her current or former partner.
On average, 13 women per day are admitted to hospital for assault injuries due to domestic and family violence.
In Australia, 62 per cent of women who have experienced or are currently experiencing domestic and family violence are in the paid workforce. (Unsplash: rawpixel.com)
The report suggests providing staff experiencing the problem better policies, including:
10 days paid leave
advanced payment of salary and/or bonus
emergency pre-paid mobile phones
one-off payments for costs associated with relocation and financial advice
work-sharing and flexible working options.
"I think it's a very foreign discussion to have for some people," says Ms McKellar, who is not just a survivor of, but also an advocate against, domestic and family violence.
"The violence doesn't end just because you've left that situation. Your perpetrator can show up at your workplace. Certainly, in my case, he would find my work mobile, he would call the front reception … and it does impact your day-to-day work routine."
Jacque Lachmund also knows how hard it is to leave an abusive relationship.
"There was a lot of controlling behaviours and a lot of pressure on me to have everything in my name, you know, financially putting me in debt, and emotional abuse," she says, reflecting on the abuse she suffered at the hands of a former partner 17 years ago.
Jacque Lachmund was lucky enough to have the support of her employer when she left her former partner 17 years ago.(ABC New: Curtis Rodda)
Ms Lachmund, now the chief executive of Challenge DV, was able to leave the abusive relationship with the support of her employer. It was as simple as being offered free counselling, which she says became a "turning point" in her decision to leave.
"I don't think my boss knew exactly what was happening — but I think what he did know, or what he did see or pick up on, was my change in behaviour, and my change in demeanour and work productivity," she says.
"I'm a really happy, bubbly person, pretty much most of the time. And, you know, I fell into a sense of withdrawal."
Ms Lachmund says that, at the time, she worked in a managerial role and felt ashamed about speaking up about her situation, but counselling was crucial in making her realise it was not her shame to carry.
"I had a fear of, you know, being judged," Ms Lachmund says.
"This issue is really shameful. And it's really embarrassing. And you do not want to tell people, because you fear that judgment that comes with it."
She says the expectation is not that workplaces understand the complexities of domestic and family violence, but to have policies and support networks to enable people to seek the help they need.
"We're asking workplaces to care about their people, to provide a framework of safety, to be able to link them and to support that will help," she says.
More workplaces have policies against domestic violence
Champions of Change founder Elizabeth Broderick says when they started the work, there was no language or awareness to talk about domestic and family violence in Australian workplaces.
Champions of Change Coalition founder Elizabeth Broderick says more organisations are implementing policies against domestic violence. (ABC News: John Gunn)
Now employers realise that domestic violence is a workplace issue. Almost all of Champions of Change's 270 leaders now head organisations that have policies against domestic violence and referral systems in place for staff.
'I got fired for not sleeping with my boss'
Julia Szlakowski says years before the AMP scandal broke at the financial services firm, she was fired from another job for not sleeping with her boss.
"What affects employees affects employers," she says.
"If you didn't believe domestic and family violence was a workplace issue prior to COVID, you surely couldn't hold on to that view today."
But she wants all workplaces to have systems in place to not only offer support when it is sought but to recognise that sometimes perpetrators use work resources to carry out the abuse.
"They're using potentially our car, the work car, computers, technology, the telephone, to coerce and control their partners and their families at home and that also needs an organisational response," she says.
How one employer is taking action
Commonwealth Bank chief executive Matt Comyn says his organisation has introduced policies including paid and unpaid leave as well as counselling support for their staff.
"Unfortunately, it is quite a significant issue in the community, and dare I say, it has increased over the last 18 months during COVID," he says.
Commonwelath Bank chief executive Matt Comyn says they have policies like paid and unpaid leave to support staff that are dealing with domestic violence.(ABC News: John Gunn)
"We really wanted to make sure that people felt confident and comfortable to be able to talk about it if they so choose to.
He says that, apart from giving their staff bystander training, the bank now offers leave, flexible work options and financial counselling.
"Of course, it's an issue that's up to them if they'd like to disclose — but there is unlimited leave for people who are victims and, of course, leave to also support anyone that might be impacted by it," Mr Comyn says.
Child care 'game changers'
Increased childcare subsidies have been one of the government's early budget leaks, but many experts say the policy is a long way short of what's needed.
"Obviously not everyone is confident asking or enquiring. What we've tried to do is make sure there's specialist skills and resources and confidential counselling support that's available for people who would like to access that."
The bank also now has programs to support its customers.
"We see in more than 90 per cent of cases that financial abuse ties very closely to physical abuse," Mr Comyn says.
"And over many years now, we've been working with a range of different partners trying to work out how we can best support customers through such a traumatic time."
"We've all got a role to play, to try and eliminate this from society."
Ms McKellar has worked as a family violence clinician for two decades and partners with workplaces to introduce policies that can assist victims.
"I find a lot of CEOs and leadership teams, it's a nervous space for them to enter into because they want to do good but they're worried they're going to say the wrong thing," Ms McKellar says.
"It's really been about changing that conversation - saying, 'What is it we can do to help you?'"
"This isn't like many policies that are written. This is really about the human experience, and how to validate people, and how people need to be heard."
For advice on domestic violence, call 1800 RESPECT – 1800 737 732.