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Employment Today, HR Solutions - Thomson Reuters

Employment Today, HR Solutions - Thomson Reuters



Employment Today Magazine

Health & safety—Domestic violence: the cost of doing nothing

Domestic violence costs New Zealand businesses $368 million in lost productivity. Increasingly, however, employers understand that addressing domestic violence has a positive impact in the workplace, says Holly Carrington.

AT 21, ABIGAIL WAS BEATEN up and terrorized by her boyfriend from the day they moved in together. He threatened suicide if she left. She stayed for a year, terrified if she left he would kill himself, or her, or both of them.

It got worse, until he strangled her to unconsciousness—then she sought help from Shine. We assessed her at extremely high risk of being killed and helped her prioritise her own safety and take steps to leave safely.

Her boyfriend knew Abigail worked by herself at a small shop. She told her boss about the abuse, that she was afraid for her life and had to quit immediately so she could leave without him finding her. Her boss was sympathetic, but asked her to work two more weeks until he could find a replacement.

Would this business owner prefer losing money from closing the shop over Abigail being killed or seriously injured? I would imagine so. Most likely, her boss did not believe or truly understand her level of danger.

Carol’s boyfriend never held a job and monitored her every move. His extreme jealousy fuelled violent rages. Several times, she ended up in hospital after he nearly killed her. He often made her late to work, and rang and texted her frequently every day.

She got fired from her first job. After six months at the next job, her boss called her in to talk about her performance. Carol took a chance and disclosed the abuse—her boss was shocked and flustered, and referred Carol to EAP. But Carol knew counselling would not solve her problem. Out of fear her boyfriend would find out about her disclosure, she quit.

She found a new job working alone in a small branch, where her boyfriend parked outside every day for over a year, occasionally coming inside to verbally or physically abuse her when no one else was around. This went on for a year until, with Shine support, Carol rang police after a brutal assault. She is now safe in a new job and moving on with her life, but still suffers PTSD and chronic pain from her injuries.

Since the Domestic Violence—Victims’ Protection Act passing its final reading July 25th, there’s been a lot of talk about the financial impact on business.

This law will require provision of ten days’ paid domestic violence leave. Research by Dr Jim Stanford (Centre for Future Work, Australia Institute, December 2016) shows the uptake of this domestic violence leave provision, where available in Australia, is only 0.022-0.31 percent—a negligible cost to employers. But it can make an enormous difference for someone who needs it.

Stanford’s research also found:

  • • 
    Concerns that victims might abuse this leave were unjustified; most victims are reluctant to use it, and need encouragement to do so. Average leave periods were rarely longer than a week.
  • • 
    Costs of replacing a single employee are estimated at $20,000.
  • • 
    Benefits to employers of paid domestic violence leave include reduced absenteeism, turnover and incidence of violence, and improved productivity.

Domestic violence costs New Zealand businesses $368 million in lost productivity. It is a New Zealand epidemic. One in three Kiwi women are physically or sexually abused by an intimate partner or ex-partner in their lifetime. Rates are similar or higher in the LGBTQ community.

But domestic violence is often invisible in the workplace until victims feel reassured it is safe and worthwhile to disclose. So it can be easy for management to believe it doesn’t happen “in my business”, “in this sector”, etc, until an employee is injured or killed, or an employee is arrested, potentially leaving colleagues stunned and traumatised, or anxious and unsure of what to do.

Increasingly employers understand that addressing domestic violence has a positive impact on staff wellbeing as well as gender diversity and inclusion.

With many common myths and misconceptions about domestic violence, it’s important to get expert help to set up an effective staff programme. This help is available from Shine’s DVFREE programme (www.dvfree.org.nz). Since 2001, DVFREE has supported employers to make workplaces safe havens for victims and to manage staff who perpetrate domestic violence—especially using work time or resources—while supporting them to change.

Shine’s more recent DVFREE Tick accreditation recognises businesses that meet our criteria, and will help employers meet new legal requirements. Engagement is steadily growing; Westpac and the Ministry of Justice have the DVFREE Tick. More than 20 medium to large employers are now working towards DVFREE Tick accreditation.

DVFREE provides guidance on policy and procedures and intensive training for “First Responders” who are advertised internally so staff experiencing domestic violence know who to approach for support and workplace safety planning. DVFREE also assists employers to prepare managers with training and raise awareness amongst all staff.

DVFREE will be more accessible for SMEs this year, with a tailored fee schedule and training soon to be offered in Auckland and Wellington that individuals can register to attend.

See www.dvfree.org.nz or contact us today to find out more at dvfree@2shine.org.nz.

HOLLY CARRINGTON is DVFREE Advisor for Shine.

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