The importance of domestic violence leave
In March 2018, the Australian government announced legislation entitling workers to take five days of unpaid domestic violence leave per year. This provision is a positive step in recognising that domestic violence is a workplace issue, but the lack of paid leave fails to address the financial burden placed on victims.
What kind of domestic violence leave is currently offered?
Many Australian workplaces already offer significantly more than the national standard. Surf Coast Shire Council set a global precedent in 2010 by offering 20 days paid leave to victims of domestic violence. Since then, some workplaces have expanded provision to include uncapped leave, paid leave per incident, accompanying financial support and assistance with accommodation. Some have even extended paid leave to staff members supporting family members, friends or colleagues who are victims of domestic violence.
Why is domestic violence leave important?
Experiencing domestic violence is a deeply traumatic and stressful time in a person’s life. Given that 2 in 3 women experiencing violence from a current partner are working, employers have the capacity to provide critical support to affected employees.
Accessing paid leave allows employees to take time out to deal with the significant physical, emotional, psychological, legal and practical consequences of domestic violence. This includes accessing medical care and counselling, meeting with police and solicitors, attending court, finding and moving in to new accommodation, and arranging new schools or childcare for children.
These are often costly and time consuming processes. Many victims end up exhausting their other leave allocations and face losing their job. Coupled with the fact that financial abuse is experienced in the majority of abusive relationships, too many victims are forced to choose between accessing support and financial security.
Not all victims choose to leave a violent relationship, but for those who want to, cost presents a significant barrier. The Australian Council of Trade Unions research showed it costs $18,000 and takes 141 hours, almost all during business hours, to escape an abusive relationship.
Retaining a job provides financial and social independence for women experiencing violence, which can make it easier for them to leave.
How does providing domestic violence leave affect workplaces?
Investing in employee well being is both the right thing to do and is good for business.
Providing domestic violence leave raises awareness of the issue, reduces stigma, and demonstrates care for staff. The offer of leave also increases the likelihood of an employee disclosing, providing the opportunity for workplaces to further support them to stay safe while working and to get help before the situation escalates and becomes more dangerous.
Through supporting victims of violence to remain in their job, your organisation benefits from higher employee retention rates and improved productivity. Externally, reputation as an employer of choice and responsible corporate citizen is enhanced, attracting quality talent and loyal customers.
Concerns about what it would cost businesses to providing paid domestic violence leave are offset by benefits and mitigated by low uptake. It is estimated that 1.5% of female employees and 0.3% of male employees are likely to utilise provisions each year, with wage payouts equivalent to 0.02% of existing payrolls. The cost to employers of offering domestic violence leave are therefore minimal, but the impacts can be life-changing for staff who need it.
Beyond domestic violence leave
Providing paid leave is just one way that employers can support staff members affected by domestic violence. To effectively respond to the issue, a comprehensive organisational response is required.
It is important to create a workplace culture that reassures victims that it is both safe and worthwhile to disclose an experience of domestic violence. Staff need to know that they will be believed and appropriately supported, trust that their story will remain confidential and not fear adverse consequences for their careers.
A strong policy framework outlining entitlements including leave, referral pathways for counselling and support services, flexible work options and workplace safety planning provides the foundation for workplace responses to victims. This needs to be reinforced through clear leadership commitment, informative communication about the issue and training to equip managers to respond appropriately.
Take a look at our Workplace Accreditation Program Framework for further inspiration on how your workplace can strengthen responses to victims of domestic violence and also engage in prevention activity.
Author Amy Crichton-Peterson is a White Ribbon Australia Workplace Advisor.