Domestic violence is a NZ epidemic
1 in 3 Women
One in three NZ women are physically or sexually abused by an intimate (ex) partner in their lifetime. (Fanslow et al, 2019).
The Rainbow community
Gay, lesbian, or bisexual adults are more than twice as likely to experience IPV and sexual violence. (NZ Crime and Victims Survey, 2018-2019).
Every three minutes
NZ Police respond to a family violence episode every 3 minutes. This is up from every 6 minutes in 2013.
Any large employer, and many smaller employers, will have employees who experience domestic violence. Increasingly, NZ businesses also want to provide a safe and supportive response to customers who experience domestic violence.
Organisations with customers representing a cross-section of the general public deal with customers experiencing domestic violence in a range of situations. Many organisations want to support their staff to be better prepared to respond to customers in these situations.
1. Social responsibility & sustainability
NZ has seen an enormous increase in reporting rates of domestic violence over the last 2 decades, likely driven by increasing public awareness. But prevalence rates have remained stubbornly static.
Taking steps to create a good domestic violence workplace programme and customer response programme demonstrates social responsibility, and proactively contributes to solving an insidious social problem. By working individually and collectively, New Zealand employers and customer- facing organisations can play a key role in addressing the epidemic of domestic violence and ultimately creating a society where domestic violence is a thing of the past.
According to the Sustainable Business Network, ‘Creating a healthy, safe and productive workplace is the foundation for long-term business success.’ Ensuring a safe and supportive workplace environment for the many staff who experience domestic violence will be the most important way to support their wellbeing and productivity.
2. Employee health, safety & wellbeing
Employees who experience domestic violence
Intimate partner violence (IPV) is the form of domestic violence most commonly experienced by employees. It includes actions by abusive partners that aim to undermine their partner’s employment and independence through:
- Sabotage, e.g. hiding or destroying a partner’s work phone or laptop, making them late for work, disrupting sleep so they’re tired at work
- Stalking: 17% of employees separated from an abusive partner reported being stalked by their ex-partners outside of their workplace or house – behaviour that is highly correlated with high risk violence (McFarlane et al, 2002)
- Harassment, i.e. interfering with a partner working, e.g. constantly interrupting them at work with phone calls, emails, texts, etc. or coming into the workplace to distract, annoy, or monitor the person. (Swanberg et al, 2005)
A PSA member survey found, from those who experienced domestic violence while in paid employment, that “domestic violence affected the ability to get to work for 38% of participants, with 62% reporting that physical injury or restraint was responsible for their difficulties and 65% reporting that concerns over childcare were responsible. Over half (53%) reported that they needed to take time off from work because of the abuse. Most reported an impact on their work performance by either making them late for work (84%) or making them distracted, tired or unwell (16%). Just over half (53%) did not disclose their abuse to anyone in their workplace, with privacy and shame being the most commonly cited reasons.” (Rayner-Thomas, 2013)
According to the NZ Family Violence Clearinghouse (2014), “Studies have shown that women who experience intimate partner violence have difficulty maintaining consistent employment, as frequently they are forced to resign, or their positions are terminated because of the way intimate partner violence interferes with work.”
Domestic violence has an enormous impact on both mental and physical wellbeing; women who experience severe intimate partner violence are eight times more likely to attempt suicide (NZ Ministry of Justice Crime and Safety Survey, 2009).
How employment helps someone experiencing domestic violence
For someone experiencing domestic violence, secure employment can improve or secure financial stability, promote physical safety, increase self-esteem, improve social connectedness, and ‘purpose in life’. Furthermore, the workplace can serve as a respite from the abuser, and provides important stretches of time where an employee have physical safety and can make plans to gain independence from their abusive partner.
The impact on co-workers
An Australian study showed 45% of people who experienced domestic violence while employed disclosed the abuse to work colleagues (Safe at Home, Safe at Work survey, 2011). Co-workers often know when someone at work is experiencing domestic violence, even when it’s not disclosed.
An employee’s experience of domestic violence often creates conflict and tension with co-workers (Rayner-Thomas, 2013). Co-workers may feel distressed and anxious, try to help the employee, cover for their decreased productivity or missed work, or they themselves may be directly harassed, threatened or harmed by the abusive person.
Co-workers may be traumatised by witnessing domestic violence, or experience vicarious trauma from hearing about an employee’s experience of domestic violence. This is especially the case in the aftermath of a co-worker being seriously injured or killed by an abusive (ex) partner.
Employees who have someone close to them outside of work who is experiencing domestic violence are also likely to be distracted or distressed at work, or miss work to help their friend or family member.
Employees who perpetrate domestic violence
Employees may also use work time and resources to perpetrate domestic violence, often targeting an employee in the same workplace. In addition to harming their victim, this behaviour impacts on their own wellbeing and productivity and may also harm their employer’s reputation, especially if the employee is in a senior role or works with vulnerable people.
A 2004 USA study (State of Maine, Department of Labor) of domestic violence offenders found:
- 78% used workplace resources at least once to express remorse or anger, check up on, pressure, or threaten the victim.
- 70% of offenders lost 15,221 hours of work time due to their domestic violence arrests.
- 48% of offenders had difficulty concentrating at work, with 19% reporting a workplace accident or near miss from inattentiveness due to preoccupation with their relationship
- 42% were late to work
ILO Convention to eliminate violence at work
In 2019, the International Labour Organisation adopted Convention No.190 ‘Eliminating Violence and Harassment in the World of Work’, which included recognising that:
- ‘violence and harassment in the world of word can constitute a human rights violation’
- ‘violence and harassment is a threat to equal opportunities, is unacceptable and incompatible with decent work’
- ‘violence and harassment also affects the quality of public and private services, and may prevent persons, particularly women, from accessing, and remaining and advancing in the labour market’, and that
- ‘domestic violence can affect employment, productivity and health and safety, and that governments, employers’ and workers’ organizations and labour market institutions can help, as part of other measures, to recognize, respond to and address the impacts of domestic violence.
3. Customer care & safety
The impact on customers & frontline staff
Because of the prevalence of domestic violence, frontline staff who interact with the general public will come across customers impacted by domestic violence. This may be in obvious ways, such as witnessing someone physically assault their partner or child. Or it may be in less obvious ways, such as a customer who cannot pay their bill because of their partner’s financial abuse, or a customer that cannot make a decision without their partner’s approval.
These experiences often leave employees feeling distressed and worried about what to do or whether they did the right thing. These feelings often persist for a long time and impact on workplace wellbeing and productivity.
Without guidance or training, employees often respond to customers impacted by domestic violence in ways that are harmful to the customer. At best, these can be missed opportunities to provide support and a path to safety for someone in a time of crisis. At worst, staff may put customers in greater danger and also put your business at risk, by doing the wrong thing.
This can be even more difficult for employees who have ongoing relationships with customers, or who may see more of the signs of domestic violence because their job takes them into customers’ homes. Hairdressers, nannies, plumbers, are just a few examples.
Financial institutions: customers experiencing vulnerability
NZ financial institutions are now required by the NZ Financial Markets Authority to demonstrate how they meet the needs of customers experiencing vulnerability. Of these customers, the ones experiencing domestic violence face the greatest potential for harm when organisations do not meet their needs, i.e. they may be killed or seriously injured or may not be able to find a way out of an ongoing abusive relationship because they are entrapped by financial abuse.
Harm or an increase in risk of harm to a customer experiencing domestic violence may be caused by an individual employee’s decision or by an organisation’s routine procedures, for example by sharing their contact details with an abusive partner after they have relocated to a confidential address, or requiring that their partner agree to close a joint account.
4. Legal obligations
Providing employee entitlements under the Domestic Violence – Victims Protection Act 2018 is not enough to provide a safe and supportive workplace for staff who experience domestic violence. These entitlements are limited to paid domestic violence leave, short-term flexible working, and no adverse treatment on the basis of being affected by domestic violence. They do not include other important support provisions recommended by DVFREE, including workplace safety planning.
While the Health and Safety at Work Act does require employers to proactively identify risks (physical and mental) to health and safety, and do what is reasonably practicable to eliminate or minimise risks, this Act has no specific requirement to identify or manage risks relating to staff affected by domestic violence
Go here for a comparison of DVFREE workplace recommendations vs legal obligations.
5. The financial cost to business
New Zealand Employers bear significant economic costs associated with domestic violence, estimated in 2014 to be at least $368 million per year. With nothing changing, those projections indicated total costs of at least $3.7 billion in the next ten years. (Kahui et al, 2014)