Family and domestic violence support
Note: The contents of this fact sheet is provided for information purposes only. The information does not constitute legal advice and legal advice should be sought where appropriate. The APSC does not accept liability to any agency for the information (or use of such information) contained within this fact sheet.
How is family and domestic violence support treated under the Public Sector Workplace Relations Policy 2023 (the Policy)?
The Australian Government is committed to supporting employees who are affected by family and domestic violence.
In addition to providing paid leave entitlements as required under the National Employment Standards, the Policy requires agencies to incorporate family and domestic violence support into their workplace arrangements. Agencies are encouraged to put in place policies and practices that provide maximum support to employees affected by family and domestic violence.
How is family and domestic violence support treated under the Public Sector Interim Workplace Arrangements 2022 (the Arrangements)?
Like with the Policy, the Arrangements also encourage all agencies to put in place policies and practices that provide maximum support to employees affected by family and domestic violence.
Understanding family and domestic violence
The Fair Work Act 2009 defines family and domestic violence as ‘violent, threatening or other abusive behaviour by a close relative of an employee, a member of an employee’s household, or a current or former intimate partner that seeks to coerce or control the employee and that causes them harm or to be fearful’.
Family and domestic violence can affect anyone. It can be isolated, or be a continuous pattern of abusive behaviour by one person over another. It can appear in many forms beyond physical abuse, and perpetrators will often use multiple tactics such as controlling behaviour (coercive control), emotional and/or psychological abuse, sexual abuse, technology-facilitated abuse, spiritual and/or cultural abuse and elder abuse.
Women are more likely than men to experience family and domestic violence as it is most often perpetrated in the home against women by their male current or former partner.
Intersecting factors contribute to the rates and differing experiences of family and domestic violence for people from different backgrounds including First Nations Australians, people of a Culturally and Linguistically Diverse (CALD) background, Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Intersex, Queer/questioning, and Asexual (LGBTIQA+) communities, or people with a disability. Intersecting factors also mean these groups face greater barriers to safety and support.
Family and domestic violence can also occur within extended families, kinship networks, inter-generational relationships and through family-like or carer relationships.
The importance of a respectful and supportive workplace
Family and domestic violence is a workplace issue. Agencies can play a critical role in supporting victim-survivors (a term commonly used when referring to people who have experienced family and domestic violence) by providing a sensitive and holistic approach to their support that will allow the employee to continue to participate meaningfully in the workplace during such difficult times.
Victim-survivors will often face financial stress, isolation, vulnerability, shame and even homelessness. Work performance and attendance will generally be impacted as affected employees may need additional time off, often unplanned, and may understandably be distracted or anxious when attending work.
With the right support mechanisms and culture, the workplace can be a safe place for victim-survivors, and a source of surety and confidence. By prioritising the health and wellbeing of employees at work generally, agencies can experience the benefits of improved productivity, engagement and satisfaction of employees at work, reduce staff turnover and reduce absenteeism (and presentism) in the workplace.
How can agencies provide maximum support to victim-survivors?
There are a number of legislative protections for victim-survivors. Agencies are responsible for meeting these obligations, and for the safety of employees. The Fair Work Act 2009 provides that employees experiencing family and domestic violence can:
- Request flexible work arrangements (note that this extends to employees who are caring or supporting a victim-survivor who is a household or immediate family member).
- Access 10 days paid family and domestic violence leave in a 12-month period
- Access paid and unpaid personal/carer’s leave (in some circumstances)
Agencies should provide the maximum available support to victim-survivors, over and above the legislative protections, which can take many forms. It is critical that each victim-survivor is supported based on their individual circumstances and that support is considered on a case by case basis. What might be appropriate for one employee might not be appropriate for another employee.
Forms of support can look like:
- access to paid miscellaneous leave with no maximum applied to the amount that may be made available to a victim survivor;
- personal/carer’s leave, as required and at the employee’s request;
- flexible working arrangements;
- flexibility in performance management;
- access and, where appropriate, referrals to counselling and support services;
- personal safety assistance at workplaces; and
- one-on-one assistance through designated contact officers where available.
Paid miscellaneous leave is available to full time, part time and casual employees. Agencies must ensure that the correct amount is paid when an employee is accessing paid leave for family and domestic violence purposes as this leave is treated differently to annual or personal/carer’s leave. Paid leave for family and domestic violence purposes is to be paid at the full rate of pay for the hours worked, had the employee not taken the leave. As such, incentive-based payments and bonuses, loadings, monetary allowances, overtime or penalty rates and any other separately identifiable amounts must be included. ‘Full rate of pay’ is defined in Section 18 of the Fair Work Act 2009.
Employees, or a member of their immediate family or household, experiencing family or domestic violence are entitled to request flexible working arrangements under the National Employment Standards. There are obligations in the Fair Work Act 2009 about how agencies are required to handle requests for flexible working arrangements. Agencies should refer to the Fair Work Ombudsman’s website for more information on these requirements
While in some instances referral to Employee Assistance Programs (EAP) for victim-survivors may be appropriate, it is recommended that employees are referred to dedicated family and domestic violence services, such as 1800RESPECT (1800 737 732), in the first instance. This is recommended due to differences in training for EAP counsellors.
Agencies are also encouraged to engage with their EAP providers to confirm what services they are able to offer employees affected by family and domestic violence, including the screening process and approach they take with victim-survivors.
What about an employee’s privacy?
Protecting the privacy of victim-survivors is paramount and agencies must handle information on a ‘need to know’ basis, as far as practicable. It is essential that any method of employee record keeping, for leave or other support related to family and domestic violence, does not put employees at risk of harm or violation of privacy.
The Fair Work Act 2009 and Fair Work Regulations 2009 put in place requirements to ensure the protection of the employee’s privacy. Where an employee takes paid family and domestic violence leave, their payslip must only report payment for ordinary hours of work and other payments they receive for performing work (such as overtime and allowances).
Employers are restricted from reporting on an employee’s payslip an absence for family and domestic violence reasons as any form of leave (including miscellaneous or discretionary leave), unless requested by the employee. Further information is available in APSC Circular 2023/2.
Agencies are strongly encouraged to put measures in place that limit or control administration and delegations for the approval of leave for family and domestic violence purposes and other supports as a measure to reduce the likelihood of sensitive, personal information being released.
Where agencies have practices to record and administer paid miscellaneous leave for family and domestic violence purposes, either through the agency’s payroll system or through individual case management, these can be retained. Agencies must however make adjustments to systems and practices that are consistent with legislative requirements.
Engaging with managers
Agencies are strongly encouraged to provide training for their managers and other relevant staff to assist them with domestic violence identification, prevention, and safety planning as this can greatly enhance the agency’s ability to support victim-survivors.
Agencies can consider the free course offered by White Ribbon Australia, DV-alert online and face-to-face courses, the tools and resources from OurWatch. Agencies can also find information on training providers through the services finder on the 1800RESPECT website.
Agencies can also consider the APS Mental Health and Suicide Prevention Unit’s personal and social capability eLearning programs to enhance employee’s interpersonal skills and learn about psychological first aid. These are available at no cost to APS employees via APSLearn:
Supporting employees affected by family and domestic violence may be emotionally challenging. Managers should be reminded they are able to access employee assistance programs for support.
APS Family and Domestic Violence Policy Framework template
A template is provided that agencies can use to develop and/or update their own policies on family and domestic violence. It has been updated to reflect a more contemporary framework and reflect recent changes to the National Employment Standards and the Fair Work Regulations 2009. Agencies should tailor this policy to suit their operations, with drafting notes added to facilitate this. Generic references to the agency, human resources and employee assistance programs should be amended to reflect the arrangements of individual agencies. Agencies should ensure that the support and leave outlined in their family and domestic violence policies are consistent with other human resources policies, their enterprise agreements and relevant legislation.