Discussing domestic violence policies in the workplace


  • Violence against women is a serious problem in Australia with 1 in 3 women experiencing physical and/or sexual violence perpetrated by someone known to them
  • Businesses are looking at the stats and how many this could be impacting in their workplace
  • To date, little has been implemented in business policy to protect and support those impacted by domestic violence
  • Domestic violence policies are now being put in place to provide employees with the education, resources and leave entitlements that may be required.

Bupa recently hosted a discussion on domestic violence and how this can impact the workplace.

In partnership with En Masse and DLA Piper, we brought together a panel of thought leaders, facilitated by En Masse CEO Mark Dean, who discussed their experiences, perspectives and organisational stories.

A key starting point for the conversation was the acknowledgment that violence against women is a serious problem in Australia. According to White Ribbon, one in three Australian women have experienced physical and/or sexual violence perpetrated by someone known to them. If organisations take this stat and apply it to their workplace, the probability of having a number of potential staff members affected by domestic violence is high. When an employee is living with domestic violence, there are often negative impacts that flow to the workplace, not to mention very real costs. Violence against women and their children is said to be costing the Australian economy around $13.6 billion per annum. Without appropriate action to address this issue, this cost is estimated to rise to $15.6 billion by 2022.

Organisations are looking to implement specific policies and practices that can deal with the repercussions of domestic violence.

There’s a real appetite to build a protective, respectful culture that helps to facilitate prevention and early intervention strategies. According to En Masse, 10 out of the 11 indicators for domestic violence are the same for mental health conditions. This makes the issue difficult to pinpoint but also indicates how broadly it can affect a person’s overall wellbeing.

Key consideration points that were raised for organisations looking to implement a policy:

  • How the organisation can be sympathetic to the psychological impact that domestic violence brings and address the potential effects on an employee’s output. Solutions such as providing specific leave entitlements for those experiencing domestic violence were discussed and have been well received in certain workplace settings.
  • The importance of privacy and confidentiality for the employee during every conversation and interaction with a manager or HR member. Organisations should implement a clear and protective privacy policy for all employees, in particular those with the responsibility of people management.
  • How domestic violence can have a vicarious impact on ‘bystanders’. Education and resources such as conversation frameworks and referral pathways need to be made available to all employees who not only could be dealing with domestic violence but may be in a position where they want to safely intervene or provide support to others.
  • Policies and procedures also need to address how the organisation deals with known perpetrators. It is debatable whether a zero tolerance approach is the best course of action – this is thought to make things worse at home and overlook the longer term needs and requirements of the employee concerned. Providing support and access to flexible working practices is one approach to help strike a balance of compassion and education. It is important for line managers and senior leadership to operate within clear boundaries, which can be achieved if the organisation clearly articulates roles and responsibilities in these complex scenarios.

The role of management training to build capacity was highlighted as an essential component to implementing a policy in a workplace. People who have experienced domestic violence have a much lower chance of disclosing if their first experience of doing so is not facilitated in a supportive way. Managers need to be aware of the possible signs that an employee could be going through domestic violence and be equipped with safe and low risk ways they might facilitate intervention.

Overall, providing relevant education to your staff to help them understand the impacts of domestic violence on individuals and on the workplace and take control of their own and other’s wellbeing is highly recommended. Sharing tips on coping with the challenge of supporting those who have experienced domestic violence and how to develop supportive relationships, along with your other wellbeing information, helps to bring this topic to light. The aim is to destigmatise the issue by opening up communication and providing a supportive workplace culture. Making sure that support can be accessed confidentially and outside of the workplace is important too, so your people will not be afraid to use it.

How can your organisation get started?

Bupa has partnered with En Masse to provide a range of mental health seminars, workshops and online modules that can be used to promote awareness of positive behaviours.

In addition and more specific to domestic violence, White Ribbon run an accreditation program which recognises workplaces that are taking active steps to help prevent and respond proactively to the issue of violence against women, accrediting them as a White Ribbon Workplace. It is an award-winning accreditation initiative.

For more information on White Ribbon Australia’s Workplace Accreditation Program download this pdf.


Australian Government. Department of Social Services. Women’s safety: Economic cost of violence against women and their children [Online; last updated Nov 2014; accessed Sep 2016] Available from: www.dss.gov.au

Australian Government. National plan to reduce violence against women and their children. Useful statistics: What we know about violence against women [Online; accessed Sep 2016] Available from: www.plan4womenssafety.dss.gov.au

Australian Human Rights Commission. Fact sheet: Domestic and family violence – a workplace issue, a discrimination issue [Online] 2014 [Accessed Sep 2016] Available from: www.humanrights.gov.au

White Ribbon. Why is the work of White Ribbon important? [Online; accessed Sep 2016] Available from: www.whiteribbon.org.au

This information has been reviewed for Bupa by health professionals and to the best of their knowledge is current and based on reputable sources of medical research. It should be used as a guide only and should not be relied upon as a substitute for professional medical or other health professional advice. Bupa HI Pty Ltd (and its related entities) makes no warranties or representations regarding the completeness or accuracy of the recommendations or assessments and is not liable for any loss or damage you suffer arising out of the use of or reliance on the information, except that which cannot be excluded by law. We recommend that you consult your doctor or other qualified health professional if you have questions or concerns about your health.