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Domestic Violence is a problem needing resolving – don’t enshrine it in workplace relations, let the

Below are some thoughts on domestic violence leave from a woman who has run a business for many years and employed many people. She for obvious reasons needs to be anonymous. Further below are some more comments and articles.

Domestic Violence is not a toy for workplace relations – it is real and a societal problem. Many victims will not take the leave as proposed for inclusion in awards as they would then have to share their private situation with their employer. Let the welfare sector, the experts, deal with this.


A Female Employers Views and Experience With Domestic Violence.

Domestic Violence Leave – this is the topic that has been really going around in my head. I grew up in a household that was impacted by domestic violence – so when considering this topic – I find it difficult to be detached from the emotion in the topic. (Even to write the prior sentence was hard work.) I have also as an employer assisted an employee with a domestic violence situation. I found this employee sitting at her desk crying and shaking. I took her to a private room and she confided in me that her partner was violent, and that the previous evening she had asked him to leave their home – which he had done in an emotive manner. I assisted her with information on resources in the community, called a lock smith and organised for the locks to be changed at her home, put in place measures that she would be accompanied to and from her car each day and gave her time off to deal with a number of matters that she needed to attend to – ie close joint bank accounts.

Two weeks later the couple reconciled – and I was then in the situation of having to attend work social events with the employee and her partner and act as if I knew nothing. I don’t believe that I hold the skills to be involved in such a situation and in this instance, the employee actually became very bitter towards me as an expression of her discomfort about her domestic situation being exposed in her workplace.

Also – I am struggling to find the right way to express this thought, but in my mind, Domestic Violence Leave almost feels like it is normalising and giving into DV. Just as it is perceived as being OK, or a right, by so many to “chuck a sickie”, and there are employees that make sure that every type of leave available to them is used in full every year – I can see a situation arising of some employees making sure they use their quota of DV leave – just because it is there. DV is never OK, it should never be normalised – and I strongly believe that the reduction in DV will change when power imbalances are changed, and when more women are financially independent, and when little girls are raised with the expectation of being financially independent, then the power balance in society changes and DV will reduce. DV should never be reduced to being part of the mindset of getting a few extra days off in the year. Small Business owners are not equipped with the skills and knowledge to manage such fraught situations. __________________________________________________________________________________________________

How will DVL be managed?

Will a certificate have to be produced? It has been suggested that an employer would know as it would be obvious – it is often not obvious. There are plenty of victims who don’t want it discussed especially in the workplace. We have also suggested that there would be some people who falsely claim the DVL (as mentioned above). This was ridiculed, the comment being ‘no one would do that”. When we point out that no employer would refuse to assist an employee in trouble that was also ridiculed.

Below are further ideas, including, if we have DVL, that it is funded and managed by government and NGOs. But we shouldn’t have it – it just institutionalises a problem it doesn’t solve it.

Domestic violence – society has an obligation (article published in Smart Company on 21 November 2016).

Domestic violence leave should be funded by government or the current leave provisions should be used.

Domestic Violence is a private issue in many ways and now the management of it has become a public issue through demands for Domestic Violence Leave (DVL).

Domestic violence is a problem that must be addressed and eradicated. Any structured response needs to be from the broader society, not from individual employers who may also be victims.

The solution is not to have DVL in the workplace relations system; except where a company volunteers to do so, as many big businesses and government agencies are doing through their enterprise agreements.

Instead we should have a nationally provided system of DVL the same as we have for Paid Parental Leave (PPL). This reflects the fact that we face a societal issue, not a problem that is created by employers.

This proposal also gives victims the option of maintaining privacy for a situation that many do not wish to share with those in the workplace, no matter how well meaning and supportive those people are and can be. This includes employers and work colleagues but also includes friends and relatives. Domestic violence is difficult and many want privacy, not further complication.

COSBOA is proposing that the DVL system be managed by the experts in the field, the Domestic Violence Safer Pathway is the obvious choice for their expertise and professionalism. There are many other agencies that provide expert support. This takes the onus away from individual employers who will not have the expertise to deal with this and indeed may be victims themselves. This also gives the victim potential access to leave without having to disclose to the employer the reason.

Individual employers have been shown to be already very supportive and along with co-workers will do whatever is possible to assist. This includes providing time off, often paid for by the employer, and the employees contribute by working extra hard as a result and do so without rancour or complaint. Why institutionalise good deeds? There seems to be very few or no cases of the opposite occurring.

There is no doubt that a scheme funded by employers fails any test of fairness when the needs of the self-employed are considered. An employer, a woman or a man, could be a victim yet this is not acknowledged and worryingly these victims, who are employers, will be forced to find extra funds and extra time to manage the lives of others who are fellow victims.

There could also be an extra demand placed on employers in areas where there is a higher incidence of domestic violence. This could fall on some employers more unfairly than it does on others, which reflects the very issues around Domestic Violence.

There is also a school of thought that a more productive workplace is one where the employer cares for employees. That is obvious, but the problem becomes when that statement is extended to situations such as PPL and DVL. Asking a small business person to find extra cash or extra time to manage a government-imposed process or expense does not create productivity. It does the opposite as the employer and her or his family is stressed. The employer is asked to spend less time on running their business, less time with their own families and less money on their own necessities because some academics say so. (These academics normally only study big businesses and often dance to the beat of big unions). Common sense should always apply ahead of false academic thesis.

We should not create greater complexity and more victims from domestic violence. That makes the problem worse not better. This approach has the potential to embed the behaviour as something to be dealt with not something that needs to be stopped.

The best solution is to fund this through government and have it managed by the welfare sector. Then there is a greater chance of getting victims to go where there is privacy and professional support and will help keep their job and others jobs more secure.

Domestic violence and workplace relations don’t mix (blog by Peter Strong published 20 August 2015)

The call to have 10 days “Domestic Violence” leave in industrial awards is worse than a knee jerk reaction, it could make a challenging and terrible situation more complex and difficult.

Domestic violence is a scourge that must be dealt with and congratulations to those that are championing awareness and solutions. COSBOA and its members support this call as should all industry groups and businesses.

The idea of leave does not take into account the small workplaces of Australia. Over 90% of workplaces employ less than 20 people. These small employers do not have workplace relations experts or the time to manage complicated awards. Some 60% of workplaces employ less than 5 people, no one in that size workplace could be an expert on workplace relations.

In all these workplaces there is one person who is constantly forgotten or worse yet treated as a person with less rights than others, and that is the employer. The employer could be of either gender, of any sexual persuasion, of any religion or no religion, disabled or not, old or young or in between.

An employer could be a victim of domestic violence and some are. That person could be placed in a situation where they have to give someone else leave due to domestic violence while they get nothing except confusion and complexity and stress from extra business costs added to their already difficult lives. That must not happen.

This call also ignores the millions of women small business operators including contractors and home based business people. Any of these people can also be a victim and they are always ignored when health or welfare is considered. Home based business operators, who are mainly women, can be experiencing domestic violence. They can’t go on leave, they are perhaps trapped in the house and they are forgotten.

Not all victims want leave, they may actually prefer to go to work to escape a difficult situation, they may want to work back or come in early. When they want leave it may be to move out of a house into safer lodgings; they will often need that leave during working hours mid-week. No employer will refuse that leave, no reasonable person will say no to such a request.

If we place this type of leave in an industrial award it means complications and process. How will a victim prove they are a victim? Will it be a doctor’s certificate, a police certificate, a counsellor’s statement? That is process; that means the victim has to tell the employer about the problem. What if the employee does not wish to do that? What if, as is often the case, they are embarrassed by the situation and afraid of what might come of divulging the facts of their situation? That is why we have carers and personal leave already in place, to deal with people’s private situations.

What if someone wants to rort the system and falsely claim they have been a victim and claim the leave? Will there be an appeals process to the Fair Work Commission or Fair Work Ombudsman?

Does this also send a message that the best workplace solution for an employee experiencing domestic violence is to send that person on leave? That is not the right message.

The large workplaces with expert staff will/should develop processes and procedures for these situations. For the small workplaces without expert staff what we need when confronted with difficult situations is information then and there on what we should or can do.

The real answer is to continue to highlight the problem and solutions and then for concerned employers and workers a workable solution will be a website for workplaces, eg “Is a co-worker or your employer a victim of domestic violence? Here is what you should and should not do.” This website would have suggested support processes and also warnings on not making things worse.

In the small workplaces it is often obvious when there is a problem and people will react as people do, in the great majority of situations with support, respect and concern. Employers will and do provide support and time off without it becoming compulsory.

The Fair Work Ombudsman has stated several times in recent months that the workplace relations system is too complicated for small business people (and indeed for their employees). Let’s not create more complexity or a barrier to normal human behaviour where people want to assist others in need. When we create a rule we create court cases, visits by authorities and in the case of domestic violence we create more conflict and confusion. The focus is removed from the real issue, the violence, and becomes a debate around workplace regulations.

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