Project Description

Domestic Violence and the Workplace – with Janice Hadgraft and James Judge

Domestic Violence is a complex and multi-faceted issue and an area that we are eager to discuss here on the Breakfast Club podcast. To gain insight into the complexities involved with domestic violence situations in the workplace, our host, Genevieve Jacobs sits down with Janice Hadgraft and James Judge.

Janice Hadgraft manages assessment and assessors for White Ribbon, Australia’s Workplace Accreditation Program, and James Judge is the director of Australian Human Resource Professionals. Together they discuss the aspects of this issue that need to be considered and the reasons why even discussing domestic violence in the workplace is a relatively new development for HR professionals.

For more resources, see our HR Breakfast Club resources below. If you have a topic that you would like us to discuss, we would be happy to hear from you, please contact us!

Some topics we cover:

  • How the #MeToo movement has raised awareness of domestic and workplace violence
  • How employers have a duty of care to protect employees at work if the employee is living in a domestic violence situation.
  • Signs to be aware of in employees who are dealing with domestic violence, but have not disclosed this information at work
  • The intersection between domestic violence, and the workplace
  • The role of employers, government and individuals in dealing with domestic violence
  • What is the White Ribbon Accreditation Program
  • Establishing a framework in the workplace to deal with domestic violence
  • How to properly facilitate disclosure in the workplace

Resources We Mentioned:

The White Ribbon Accreditation Program

Royal Commission into Family Violence

Me Too Movement

Genevieve Jacobs: This is the HR Breakfast Club Podcast. My name’s Genevieve Jacobs and our focus in this series is on the world of work in Australia, with a legal spin. In every episode, we look at a variety of HR issues you might be dealing with in the workplace. We hope you’ll go away armed with some new perspectives, some new information about how to tackle sometimes quite thorny issues. Our website is hrbreakfastclub.com.au and if you’d like to make contact with some questions, we can respond to those too.

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Genevieve: In this episode, the intersection between domestic violence and the workplace and to be dealing with this is a new development for practitioners and sometimes a complex and challenging situation. With me are Janice Hadgraft who managers assessment and assessors for White Ribbon Australia’s Workplace Accreditation Program, and James Judge, who is the director of Australian Human Resource Professionals. James, let me start with you. Even discussing domestic violence in the workplace is a relatively new development. What’s happened in recent years that means HR personnel are now likely to be facing this as an issue?

James Judge: Well, thanks, Genevieve. Look, I think there’s a number of factors at play here. First and foremost is an increasing understanding of the phenomena of domestic and family violence. There’s more of an acceptance of the willingness to discuss and talk about the issue. From a generational perspective, in my father’s day, it was something that was never discussed in public, it was seen as an intensely private matter.

Whereas now I think barely a week goes past where there isn’t some article or commentary in the paper or on the news on the topic. Also, there’s been an increasing focus from the government from a policy perspective. Since 2010, we’ve had a national plan to address violence against women and children. We’ve also had a series of very high profile government reports around Australia.

In Victoria, we had a Royal Commission into family violence releasing its findings in 2016 and the governor of that state responded by allocating two and a half billion to implementing those recommendations. I think Rosie Batty being Australian of the Year in 2015 was another important factor. She’s played a very prominent role in both raising awareness of family violence and also advocating for change.

Genevieve: James, there are also some legal parameters for dealing with reports of domestic violence that this does actually now sit under the Fair Work Act and employer’s obligations, doesn’t it?

James: Yes, it does. Look, there is a complex interplay of legislation at work here. I’ll just focus on the workplace perspective because that’s really the area that I operate within. The Fair Work Act has, for some time actually, had a provision where eligible employees who are experiencing domestic violence or had a family member who was experiencing domestic violence could actually request flexible working arrangements. I think there was a seismic shift last year actually when on the 1st of August, 2018 the Fair Work Commission actually had a decision and inserted a clause into all modern awards, whereby all employees covered by those awards would have access to five days unpaid family domestic violence leave.

Now, many employers had already gone further. I’m thinking it was sitting in the ACT, the ACT government in their enterprise agreement for ACT public servants had already extended 10 days leave, but I think that really forced a lot of organisations to sit up and pay attention. Lastly, the Workplace Health and Safety Act. Employers have a duty of care to protect employees at work and unfortunately, behaviours by perpetrators can continue at work through harassing calls, emails and actually turning up in the workplace.

Genevieve: Janice, let’s talk about this recognition that domestic violence is something that should be addressed in the workplace. There’s obviously a level of commitment to seeing that taking place. Workplaces would have to be in the right place to either make a start to deal with this, given that, as we’ve said, this is fairly new territory for many of them.

Janice Hadgraft: Yes, indeed, but I think there is definitely a recognition from workplaces that it’s something that should be addressed. As part of being involved in the Workplace Accreditation Program, we regularly receive calls from workplaces to join the program because they recognize that they can play a part in addressing violence against women, both in and related to their workplaces. They’re talking about introducing changes to prevent violence, so bringing in strategies around gender equity and respectful behaviours, but also about being able to support staff who disclose.

The statistics show that over 60% of women who are experiencing violence from a current partner are working, and this message is being heard by workplaces. They can actually see a real need for making changes. We’re also hearing interest in the program because managers are hearing disclosures from staff and realizing that they actually have a limited understanding of what to do. They really want to make a change.

Genevieve: James, just picking up on what Janice has said there, what kind of problems are we talking about? What might an HR professional hear about when an employee comes in their door?

James: It can present in many different ways, and actually getting people to disclose it can be quite an issue. This can go on for months, if not years, before people even understand that they may actually be a target of domestic violence. Look, it could be a straight-up disclosure, it could be someone who comes and asks for support, especially if they’re attempting to or thinking about leaving an abusive relationship. Often the issue is masked under something else.

The presenting symptoms, if you will, the way it will present will be things like in presenteeism, absenteeism, drop in performance. This can come up in a regular performance discussion. I’ve had discussions over the last few weeks where I’ve had situations where someone’s turned up in the workplace, a perpetrator has turned up in the foyer of the building and the receptionist is faced with the question, “What do we do?”

Well, the flip side of that actually is that you may have a situation where you’ve got an alleged perpetrator and the police turn up to serve a family violence order or apprehended domestic violence order, the terms are different depending on the jurisdiction, in the workplace. It can present in many ways. It can be both an issue of concern for the victim or it could be a perpetrator. It’s not a simple neat set of circumstances that leads to this.

Genevieve: I guess you’ve gone there to my next question, which is whether these problems actually also occur at work, and how do issues outside work intersect with what’s happening in the workplace? The response from many people will be, “Well, look, that’s happening somewhere else. That’s not necessarily something that will impinge on everyday work activities,” but it absolutely we can. Can’t it?

James: Yes, I think that everything that happens outside work impinges on the workplace. It could be somebody with a sick child, it could be mental illness. You can’t neatly partition working life and life outside work.

Genevieve: Well, I think we might talk a little bit later on about this idea of stigma and people’s willingness to disclose. We do need to go into that. Janice, I’m wondering from you what the level of responsibility a workplace can have for dealing with these problems, where the responsibility starts and stops. As James has said, everything that goes on outside is, to some extent, going to impact workplace and workplace performance and that’s the proper realm of HR, but what should a workplace do to deal with these problems? Where does the responsibility start and stop?

Janice: I think, James is obviously better positioned to specify the responsibility legally that a workplace should have in responding to the problems, but from our position, we look at encouraging organisations to consider the breadth of what they can do to prevent violence and respond appropriately. We are talking about them taking a stand, actually being a voice against violence against women.

Making a stance in the community, setting the standard for the behaviour of their staff and making them accountable to that standard, have processes in place to prevent, and then respond appropriately to inappropriate behaviours from staff, including clear disciplinary procedures. As James had said before, create a safe workplace, so actually assess the risks of violence against the women in the workplace and act to mitigate the risks. That can be from considering security, it can be talking about what are the options in changing work practices if things occur.

It’s also about training the staff to understand the issue and actually be able to respond appropriately. Then, we actually get workplaces to think about their own specific characteristics because every workplace is a little bit different and that gives them the opportunity to really explore and implement a range of actions that are specific or work best in their workplace to prevent violence as well as determine the range of supports that that workplace can offer a staff member who may find it beneficial.

Genevieve: James, just quickly to you. On that issue of the level of responsibility, an employer has for dealing with these problems. I mean, clearly you have to have an understanding that the violence could encompass a number of different behaviours, things like harassment, stalking, aggressively sexist behaviour and the like. It’s about culture in the workplace, but perhaps two parts to this answer. The employer’s legal responsibility here and their moral responsibility, I suppose, towards their staff.

James: Yes, you’re right in identifying that there are these two aspects of the other responsibility. One is the legal responsibility, and there are the workplace health and safety and the other provisions of the Fair Work Act and various entitlements under awards, and there’s criminal law that comes in here as well. When we start talking about things like sexual discrimination and harassment, while that may be part of domestic violence, it’s broader than that. Sexual harassment and discrimination. Again, there are more laws on that, both of the federal and the state level, just to complicate things.

Look, I could go on here and speak a bit about the different terms that are used because it can be confusing. White Ribbon, for instance, talks about violence against women. Sometimes you’ll hear the term gender-based violence. Sexual assault is obviously a form of gender-based violence, but it can happen inside and outside a domestic relationship. Legally, there are various things to be mindful of, from an organisational perspective. Morally, it is a complex, multifaceted problem and it’s not going to be solved just by throwing more money in the health sector. Employers, government and individuals all have a role to play, I think.

Genevieve: Janice, on that, let’s then talk about the White Ribbon Accreditation Program because this is a framework for dealing with the issue from multiple perspectives. Can you briefly outline for me what it is and how it functions?

Janice: It’s a voluntary accreditation program that organisations can undertake. The idea is that it supports organisations to develop and implement a framework to create a safer and more respectful workplace. It has three standards and under those, there are 15 criteria. The standards focus on leadership and commitment, prevention of violence against women, and then also responses to violence against women.

It allows organisations to actually build on the current policy work that they already have around gender equality and diversity initiatives, but it actually allows them to take the extra steps. I suppose broadly the sort of changes an organisation can be expected to make can be grouped into policy and process work, education and training, and then just as important, communication.

The interesting thing about this accreditation program compared to a lot of others is that because its aim is to support organisations to make a change, the program itself includes support and resources that an organisation can use along the path to accreditation. As well as webinars, we have one-on-one conversations with an adviser. There’s a lot of resources that we provide for a program to help them to develop systems.

Even to the extent of, we’ve got a practice library which is actually built up of examples of excellent practice from other organisations who’ve gone through the program. That can be from policies and processes and risk assessments and a whole range of different resources, but the other part to it is why we want to support organisations to make this change.

We also want to make sure that the accreditation award when they get it as valued.

Along with having the support as they go through the program, the assessment itself is actually undertaken by an assessor who’s external to White Ribbon so that, that way the assessment itself becomes an objective evaluation of the steps that the organisation has taken and whether they’ve met the standards to enable them to be called a White Ribbon organisation.

Genevieve: James, I wonder whether part of the issue is that because domestic violence has been intensely private in the past, HR managers may simply not have had any idea how to respond to the situation. That’s what Janice is describing there, a framework and mechanism and awareness-raising as much as a way to respond. Disclosure can be so difficult, but perhaps there just hasn’t been an easy way to facilitate that happening.

James: I think that’s right and I think the situation’s changed over the past few years. I think most medium to large organisations now have some kind of policy and there’s awareness that there needs to be some framework in place. Unfortunately, it’s not just the HR managers though that need to have awareness, capability and importantly, confidence to have the discussions because it’s unlikely to be the HR manager necessarily who’s going to be the first point of disclosure.

I mean, I’m actively involved in running sessions for managers and organisations and HR teams in how to have these conversations. I think that’s the next step. One thing to have a great set of policies, one thing to be aware of your legal obligations. The next thing is creating that culture, making that change and upskilling managers to have the capability and confidence to have the conversations.

Genevieve: Just on that issue of facilitating disclosure and making that process as accessible as possible when there’s often been a stigma in the past, how do you facilitate it? How do you make it an easier thing to do when people are so bound up in the emotional impact?

James: Well, I think Janice will have more to say on this, but a lot of it is around awareness rising. A lot of it is around making it okay to talk about these issues in the workplace. I think that’s got to be more than just sticking posters in tea rooms, which is often an important but preliminary step. The first thing is the atmosphere, the culture. The second thing is building that awareness.

The third thing is ensuring that if there is a disclosure that that disclosure is treated in a way where– There’s two factors actually. One is what you’re doing, making the person safer. The second point is, is it clear that what you’re doing is not blaming the victim? Are you making it clear that the perpetrator is responsible and accountable? Look, I’m sure Janice might have more to add on that.

Janice: I think what I mentioned before about those three main areas of change that organisations have to do actually pick up on that, apart from the policy and process which James has already mentioned, it’s also about education. Our program has compulsory education for people leaders. That’s to give them the skills to be able to accept disclosures, but also to give them the skills to understand the workplace that they need to support; the workplace that has respectful behaviours. The other part of the education is that where there is also a requirement to offer education to staff.

It’s not compulsory for staff, for a lot of reasons. Some of which I think are around where the staff feel comfortable necessarily with participating in the education, but it certainly has to be made available. That’s, again, both being able to have an understanding of the issue. One of the things that have actually come out through the program is that it can also help them to feel confident in supporting their colleagues to seek support if they make a disclosure. The education part is very important, but the other part that sits with it is actually communication.

We have two elements of communication. One is there has to be, within the program, a whole lot of internal communication and not just about the supports the organisation that can provide, but also about the issue, about addressing the issue. It’s about raising that awareness for staff generally. As part of that, the other part of communication is external. The organisation has to be seen to be taking a stance and that also helps internally because it reinforces to the staff that it’s not just what the organisation is saying to us, but they’re actually willing to stand up in the community and make these same sorts of statements.

Genevieve: Janice, what change do you see in workplaces that have been through the program? Can you measure the results and get a sense of thoroughgoing change?

Janice: We can. There’s actually an external evaluation of the program that’s just been completed that’s going to give us some very good objective information on the impact of the program. When organisations go through the program, staff complete two surveys. There’s a baseline survey at the beginning, and then just prior to the accreditation assessment, there’s a follow-up survey.

From these surveys, we have data from 142,000 participants for the baseline survey and just under 90,000 participants for the follow-up survey. We’ve had an average response of about 50% of organisations. This objective evaluation is going to give us really good reliability for the results. The other part I think, which is not quite so measurable, but this program has been going now for over five years.

We’re now actually seeing organisations who are signing up to be re-accredited, and that’s over 90% of those who’ve already participated in the earlier rounds of the program have signed up to go through the re-accreditation process. I think that’s another example of the change that’s actually happening in a lot of these organisations that start the program is actually ongoing.

Genevieve: James, beyond the strong human needs here, of course, you want to respond to an employee who’s in difficulties and who comes to you with something that’s got profound impact on their everyday life, but beyond those human needs, what’s the value for an employer in managing those issues around domestic violence well?

James: Above and beyond contributing to a broader societal change, there are real issues with productivity here. There’s one study in 2011, this was an Australian study by the way, that showed that nearly half of those experiencing domestic violence reporting it affecting their capacity to get to work. We also know, and I can’t remember if I mentioned this before, but there was a KPMG study in 2016 commissioned by the federal government that showed the cost of violence against women was 22 billion in 2015 and ’16. There’s a real intangible economic reason above and beyond these legal and moral factors that we discussed.

Genevieve: Janice, just finally to you, how much do you believe has been achieved in changing the community conversation around domestic violence, through what can happen in the workplace? What role has that got in achieving social change?

Janice: I think there’s definitely an impact. Workplaces are part of the community, both because their staff are part of the community so things that happen in the workplace, their staff talk about. As well as that, the workplace itself has an actual presence in the community. Through the accreditation process, there’s actually a requirement for workplaces to be active in the community. They actually need to have that presence beyond their workplace, they need to advocate for violence prevention, they need to be actually proactively involved and encourage their staff to be involved in prevention initiatives. I think all of this helps in changing that community conversation.

Genevieve: Thank you both so much for your time.

James: Thank you very much.

Janice: Thank you, Genevieve.

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Genevieve: I’m Genevieve Jacobs. You’ve been listening to Janice Hadgraft who manages assessment and assesses for White Ribbon Australia’s Workplace Accreditation Program, and James Judge who is the director of Australian Human Resource Professionals. Go to the HR Breakfast Club podcast website for many more podcasts about HR issues that are challenging that are difficult, and that perhaps we can give you a hand with. You might like to contact us to offer yourself up as talent or to give us an idea for a future podcast. I’m Genevieve Jacobs. Until next time.

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