Your workplace rights to paid or unpaid leave and free counselling to escape domestic violence

ABC News By business reporter Nassim Khadem 12.11.21
More Australian employers are implementing policies to fight domestic and family violence, recognising it's a workplace health and safety issue.

According to a report released by the Champions of Change Coalition this week, it is a problem costing employers $2 billion annually because of absenteeism and lost productivity.

While the problem predominantly affects women, men can also be victims of domestic violence.

Rape and Domestic Violence Services Australia chief executive Hayley Foster shared some of her insights with ABC News about how workers can raise the issue with their employer if they want to.

A woman wearing a black jacket over a blue shirt.
Hayley Foster is the chief executive of Rape and Domestic Violence Services Australia.(ABC News: Jerry Rickard)

How do you tell your boss that you are in an abusive relationship?

Many employers now do have policies around domestic violence.

These policies often specify who the contact point is within the organisation and what policies are in place to assist you.

Ms Foster says it's important for people who are in the situation to remember, they are not at fault.

"It's not your shame," she says.

Ms Foster says the person in the organisation you raise the issue with doesn't necessarily have to be your boss. She says it can be a friend or colleague who advocates on your behalf if you want them to.

"You may not feel comfortable talking to one manager, or the HR department, so [if there is an advocate] you call up and speak to somebody who is a professional service that actually is there and understands what you're going through," she says.

"They can also help advocate for you with your employer as well."

Play Video. Duration: 3 minutes 19 seconds
Unlimited leave, cash advances and free counselling for staff facing domestic violence.(Nassim Khadem)

If there is a domestic violence policy, what can I expect it to cover?

Every workplace is different and will have its own policy that covers things like paid and unpaid leave, flexible work arrangements and free counselling.

But Ms Foster says all workplaces have pre-existing entitlements workers can draw on, such as carers leave.

"If you're in the public service, you have access to paid domestic and family violence leave, and there are a number of leading employers in the private sector that are offering that," she says.

She says best practice now is that employers have at least 10 days paid domestic and family violence leave and make it clear that they support their staff working flexibly and offer any other support needed.

"When you're raising this with your employer, you should expect them to behave compassionately, you should expect them to believe you. And you should expect that they will maintain your confidentiality, and that they will give you a sense of autonomy in how you're wanting to respond to this."

What free services can I draw on for help?

If there is no firm workplace policy on domestic violence, Ms Foster says there are still external resources you can draw on for support.

"If you're not feeling comfortable coming forward [to your employer], you may have good reason. It's quite a daunting thing to come forward and speak about what's happened.

"It's really important to know that those services are there … and you can speak to somebody who understands and gets what you're going through."

These services can include but are not limited to:

  • 1800 RESPECT 1800 737 732. 1800RESPECT provide a professional telephone and online crisis and trauma counselling service, 24 hours a day, 7 days per week.
  • RAPE AND DOMESTIC VIOLENCE SERVICES AUSTRALIA DV Impact Line: 1800 943 539. LGBTIQA+ Violence Line: 1800 497 212, Rape and Domestic Violence Services Australia provides 24/7 national trauma specialist counselling service for people impacted by sexual domestic and family violence. 
  • RSPCA – PETS IN CRISIS (DOMESTIC VIOLENCE PROGRAM) RSPCA provides temporary safe housing and practical solutions for pet owners leaving situations of domestic violence in a number of states and territories, including NSW, QLD and WA.
  • WOMEN'S SERVICES NETWORK (WESNET) WESNET is the national peak body for specialist women's domestic and family violence services across Australia and the leading sector expert on the intersection of technology and violence against women.

There are also a number of state-based organisations that these national bodies can recommend.

Do I have any legal rights to take leave if it is not offered?

Ms Foster says under the National Employment Standards and Fair Work Act, you can take leave for domestic and family violence, but it's not paid.

"Of course, you can reach out if you have a union, or you can reach out to Fair Work Australia, to … have [your rights] pointed out to your employer," she says.

She adds that as part of the Respect at Work recommendations employers are being urged to provide staff with safe working places.

"They [workers] might be harassed at work [by perpetrators who are] using work time and work facilities — the employer really needs to be responsible for that," she says.

The information is general in nature. For specific advice, contact one of the organisations listed above.

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