The purpose of this circular is to ensure a consistent, respectful and supportive approach is taken across Australian Government employment in relation to employees who are affected by domestic or family violence.
Domestic or family violence
- A National Plan to Reduce Violence against Women and their Children has been developed and endorsed by the Prime Minister and all Australian premiers and chief ministers at the Council of Australian Governments (COAG)1. This Plan makes it a priority for all Australians, but particularly governments, to take responsibility for reducing violence against women and children and to support people affected by domestic or family violence. Agencies are encouraged to avoid being narrow in thinking about domestic and family violence and to recognise the serious harm that can arise in various relationships.
- Consistent with the National Plan, domestic violence refers to acts of violence that occur between people who have, or have had, an intimate relationship. While there is no single definition, the central element of domestic violence is an ongoing pattern of behaviour aimed at controlling a partner through fear, for example by using behaviour which is violent and threatening. In most cases, the violent behaviour is part of a range of tactics to exercise power and control over women and their children, and can be both criminal and noncriminal. Domestic violence includes physical, sexual, emotional and psychological abuse2.
- The National Plan also notes that family violence is a broader term that refers to violence between family members, as well as violence between intimate partners. The term, ‘family violence’ is the most widely used term to identify the experiences of Indigenous people, because it includes the broad range of marital and kinship relationships, in which violence may occur3.
- Domestic or family violence is a serious problem in Australia, with it being estimated in the National Plan to Reduce Violence against Women and their Children that ‘[a]bout one in three Australian women experience physical violence and almost one in five women experience sexual violence over their lifetime’4. The majority of this violence is perpetrated by partners or family members. This violence crosses all ages, races, cultures, socioeconomic and demographic barriers5.
- Men can also experience domestic or family violence, though rates are estimated to be far lower than for women and the violence generally less severe6. While violence against men is not as common, it should be treated as seriously as violence against women.
- The Australian Government and the Australian Public Service is committed to providing a fair, flexible, safe and rewarding workplace for all employees. The provision of such a workplace is especially important for Australian Government employees who experience domestic or family violence. We are all responsible for upholding this commitment and we can all help to ensure that our colleagues and staff who may be affected by domestic or family violence are always treated sensitively and respectfully at work.
Domestic or family violence and the workplace
- Domestic or family violence has a variety of impacts on workplaces. Affected individual employees may be prevented from or delayed in getting to work or need to leave work at short notice. They may receive threatening or abusive calls, texts or emails at work. They may need to take time off work to attend court hearings, counselling or to access family support services to protect themselves and their children. Sometimes affected employees may have trouble managing their workload and may be distracted.
- Other staff in the workplace may also be impacted by working alongside an affected employee, such as through witnessing threats and/or violence towards the employee at the workplace. Managers must be conscious of their work health and safety obligations to ensure, to the extent reasonably practicable, the health and safety of others while at work. They should be alert to the effect of domestic or family violence on all employees, if they are aware of the existence of such issues within their workforce.
- Agencies should also give consideration to these issues when developing workplace safety strategies and should ensure contact officers and managers are aware of, and have skills to address, the risks which may arise in relation to domestic or family violence and the workplace.
Support and assistance
- As mentioned above, domestic or family violence can impact negatively on the workplace. It can affect the performance, productivity and safety of those affected and those working with someone affected. Providing support, understanding and flexibility to employees who are affected by domestic or family violence is crucial and all staff should ensure that this is provided.
- Employees should be made aware of the support available for staff affected by domestic or family violence and that any disclosure relating to personal difficulties will be treated in the utmost confidentiality. Creating awareness should encourage staff to inform their managers or human resources areas that they are the victim of domestic or family violence so that support can be provided.
- Agencies should raise awareness of any free, independent counselling service available to employees and particularly encourage employees affected by domestic violence, as well as their managers and colleagues, to use such services. Examples of such services are employee assistance programs and state and territory domestic violence services. Consideration of how to maximise the effectiveness of employee assistance programs to support employees affected by domestic violence is encouraged.
- Employees should also be told of specialised advice services, such as the 1800 RESPECT (1800 737 732) number, which is a free, confidential, 24 hour helpline and counselling service which offers individualised assistance targeted towards those affected by domestic and family violence.
Leave arrangements for Australian Government employees affected by domestic violence
- Commonwealth legislation and workplace instruments contain extensive leave entitlements which have been designed to assist employees and allow them flexibility to deal with personal crises, such as being affected by domestic or family violence.
- As a model employer, the Australian Government is committed to supporting employees experiencing difficulties with domestic or family violence.
- In accordance with agencies' enterprise agreements, people who are affected by domestic or family violence should be allowed to access their personal leave entitlements for reasons such as:
- Attending medical or counselling appointments;
- Moving into emergency accommodation and seeking more permanent safe housing;
- Attending court hearings;
- Attending police appointments;
- Accessing legal advice; and
- Organising alternative care and educational arrangements for their children.
- However, in circumstances where personal leave does not apply, or if employees have exhausted their personal leave entitlements, understanding should be shown and reasonable allowance made for employees affected by domestic or family violence.
- Information about domestic and family violence and its interrelationship with the workplace can be found at Safe at Home, Safe at Work website.
- For further information and assistance in relation to supporting employees affected by domestic or family violence, please contact the Workplace Relations Policy Team on (02) 6202 3750.
Workplace Relations Group
20 November 2012
1 - Commonwealth Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs, 2011, National Plan to Reduce Violence Towards Women and their Children 2010-2022, Canberra.
2 - Note 1, page 2.
3 - Note 1.
4 - Note 1, page 9.
5 - Note 1, page 11.
6 - Jane Mulroney and Carrie Chan, ‘Men as Victims of Domestic Violence – Topic Paper’ Australian Domestic and Family Violence Clearinghouse, 2005, New South Wales.