Domestic abuse is the abuse of power and control over one person by another in a domestic setting and can take many different forms, including physical, sexual, emotional, verbal and financial abuse.
Globally, the victims of domestic violence are overwhelmingly women.
Employers have long understood that home life problems can affect attendance, job performance, and turnover. People experiencing domestic abuse are often subject to disciplinary action and lose their jobs because their erratic behaviour (such as being late or absent on a regular basis) is misinterpreted. However, a steady income is essential for a survivor’s economic independence and their opportunity to break out of an abusive relationship.1
Employers know, too, that the abuse can spill over and threaten other employees and even physical assets. Domestic violence too often becomes workplace violence which presents a social, ethical, legal, and cost impact on an organisation. Once an employee leaves an abusive partner, the workplace can become the setting for harassing phone calls, stalking, and outright viciousness.
Employers can provide Employee Assistance Programmes that provide education and counselling on domestic abuse. An organisation’s best legal and ethical response to the risk of domestic abuse impacting the workplace is to take reasonable steps to educate the staff on domestic abuse, possible threats, and the impact on staff and business.2
Here are five steps to anticipating and offering employee support in regard to domestic abuse3:
Establish clear policies and procedures
It is important to be aware of the existing rights and obligations that are relevant to domestic and family violence in the workplace in South Africa. The Domestic Violence Act (DVA) (no 118 of 1998) is applicable to a range of familial and domestic relationships and covers both heterosexual and same sex relationships. Under the DVA, a victim of domestic violence may apply for a protection order to stop the abuse and to stop the abuser from entering the mutual home, the victim’s residence, or the victim’s place of employment.2
- Develop policy around supporting employees who are victims and survivors of domestic and family violence.
- Ensure these policies and procedures are clearly communicated to staff and that employees are encouraged to make use of them.
Establish clear roles and responsibilities – and build capacity
- Clearly communicate the roles and responsibilities of senior leadership and managers in supporting victims and survivors as well as in dealing with perpetrators in the workplace.
- Ensure managers and those responsible for policy implementation and safety planning receive adequate training and support.
Implement an awareness-raising and education programs
- Ensure all workers understand the impact of domestic and family violence on individuals and on the workplace.
- Ensure employees receive training on how to recognise the signs that a colleague may be experiencing domestic violence.
Provide referrals and external support
- Ensure those staff required to support other staff (e.g. managers) are aware of the appropriate organisational support and referral pathways for women who experience violence and men who perpetrate violence, as well as support available for themselves.
Ensure adequate support is provided for affected employees
- Discuss the short and longer term needs and requirements of the affected employee and if required, assist them in developing a safety plan.
- Ensure ongoing communication and regularly check in with the affected employee while making sure to respect privacy and confidentiality.
- Refer the affected employ on to appropriate support services.