Domestic Violence Damage Limitation
The effects of domestic violence are felt far beyond the home. What are employers obliged to do?
Following media discussion in 2016 about comprehensively introducing paid domestic violence leave, the impacts of familial violence beyond the home – particularly in the workplace – are under scrutiny.
Around one in six female workers has experienced or is currently experiencing domestic violence (DV). Many victims of DV experience financial risk or poverty. Financial security, such as stable employment, increases a victim’s ability to leave a violent situation, and gives them a secure financial future independent from their attacker. However, it can be difficult to maintain employment while suffering abuse and its flow-on effects.
DV can impact employment in numerous ways: perpetrators may interrupt workplaces – giving rise to work health and safety issues; victims may need time off work in order to access support services; victims may be unable
to concentrate at work and have performance related issues. Understandably, this can make the employment relationship volatile for both the employee and the employer.
What employers must do
Under the Fair Work Act 2009 employees experiencing DV, or caring for an immediate family member who is experiencing DV, have the right to request a ‘flexible working arrangement’. For example, an employee may request to start work later because they have had to move to a new suburb with poor public transport in order to escape their abuser. Employers are not obliged to agree to requests for a ‘flexible working arrangement’, provided any refusal is based on ‘reasonable business grounds’. For some organisations it would not be possible to have an employee start later because that employee normally opens the shopfront, and the business cannot afford to hire another employee to cover this duty. In general, employees do not have the right to challenge the refusal of a flexible working arrangement unless they are entitled under an enterprise agreement. However, that does not mean that an employer should feel free to refuse all requests. A request for a flexible working arrangement should open up a dialogue between employer and employee to see if they can find an arrangement that is suitable for both parties.