Gary* has been supporting his employee, Sara, who is being subjected to domestic violence. Gary is very supportive of Sara’s plans to leave her partner and ensures access to her entitled support such as paid leave and flexible working arrangements to make this happen. A few weeks later, however, Gary finds out that Sara returned to her abusive partner. Feeling frustrated that Sara did not follow through, he asks Sara to leave the organisation.
This true story of one domestic violence victim’s experience with a workplace highlights an important, yet complex, issue: access to workplace support for domestic violence is vital, but misunderstandings about such violence hinder effective implementation, potentially hurting victims further.
Gary holds common assumptions about domestic violence: it is a discreet event that ends when a victim leaves a relationship; violence happens in the home (not through institutions); and victims must take individual responsibility for violence. None of these assumptions are true.
Domestic violence is a complex social problem embedded in gender inequality. Victims are subjected to violence from abusers and institutions for years after a relationship ends. Domestic violence spills into work, friendships and communities. We must protect individual victims, but the violence is not individual; it is woven into the fabric of our society.
Workplaces need frameworks to understand their role within this broader social picture. While legislation gives us the base for employee rights, it alone does not determine how workplaces enact their responsibilities.
Our research, recently published in the Journal of Industrial Relations, aims to bridge the gap between the written policy and its implementation, in line with gender equality objectives.
A Framework for Workplaces
1. Domestic violence is both public and private
The ‘domestic’ of domestic violence is misleading. While violence does happen at home, it spills across arenas of victims’ lives. Research has shown that abusers use workplace time and resources: they might ask colleagues to report on a victim’s activities or call victims excessively during work hours. Victims carry the exhaustion, fear and pain of abuse into the workplace.