Recognising and responding to family violence in the workplace may not be something that all employers have considered in their workplace policies. 

However, domestic and family violence is a huge problem in Australia, with the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare reporting 2.2 million Australians are survivors of physical and or sexual abuse by a partner, and 3.6 million Australians have experienced emotional abuse by a partner. 

Workplaces can make a difference in these outcomes — beyond the obvious of providing a safe space and financial independence for the many victims of domestic and family violence who are in paid employment. 

The Institute of non-violence (IoNV) was launched today to look at the practical steps employers and staff can take to address the impacts of family violence, both internally and externally.

Sprintlaw client Hala Abdelnour is heading up the initiative, so we caught up with her to learn more about how employers can create supportive workplaces. 

Hala is trained in psychology and social work, and is a consultant known for running ‘Global Echo’, a company which teaches all kinds of workplaces about diversity and inclusion. As well as running workshops, Hala reviews or drafts policies about diversity and inclusion in the workplace to ensure cultural safety.

In Hala’s words:

“Employees want to feel valued, appreciated and be encouraged to be themselves. That’s what makes a happy employee. When their skills are not just seen and valued in money but other ways too.”

Lately, Hala has noticed an uptick in employers becoming interested in having better policies around staff affected by family violence.

The Institute of non-violence is a brand new business created specifically to help workplaces recognise and respond to staff and customers who may be perpetrators or victims of family violence. Its core belief is that a supportive and safer work culture will lend itself to someone being better able to disclose violence. But, to do this, workplaces need to have the right processes for family violence disclosure.

Hala goes further, looking deeper at the intersectionality of the workplace with an individual’s experiences. It’s important to consider how an individual’s class, social status, experience of being a refugee, or other significant traumas in their life impact their current experience of family violence.

Most family violence training focuses on responding to victims of family violence. However, Hala also trains workplaces on what employers can do if an employee is a known perpetrator of family violence. She offers strategies for disclosing this in the workplace, whether overtly or not. This is a crucial step to not turning a blind eye to domestic and family violence within our communities. 

It’s well known that family violence can affect workplace productivity and, of course, morale. The recent introduction of family and domestic violence leave in 2018 and the decision in Workers Compensation Nominal Insurer v Hill [2020]  solidified employers’ responsibilities to create a safe working environment for employees facing domestic and family violence.  

No two workplaces are the same, and there’s no ‘one size fits all’ solution to combating family violence in the workplace. For this reason, the Institute of non-violence gathers research and tailors family violence responses to specific workplaces. 

Hala uses the example of a company that works in the financial space and bills customers. Policies might need to address the effects of financial abuse — teaching staff the signs to look out for, and working flexibility into processes when dealing with these customers, so as to not to bombard them with overdue bills and thus escalate the impact of financial abuse.

Similarly, if employees are attending a customer’s home, the workplace’s family violence policy should be tailored to reflect this. In these cases, Hala recommends a full day of training so that staff can respond to family violence, while focusing on staff care. 

Hala sees her role as that of a collaborator, and the Institute of non-violence as a bridge, bringing together experiences of her different roles to apply to each unique workplace. Her aim isn’t to teach employers to be experts in family violence, but to help them implement  confidential and safe structures to address family violence.

The Institute of non-violence can assist all types of workplaces – government, private, NGOs, and workplaces that work in the area of family violence or those that are completely separate from it.

In Hala’s words, “People don’t need to be siloed in their spaces. Family violence impacts everyone, it doesn’t matter where they work.”

The launch of the Institute of non-violence coincides with the International Day For The Elimination Of Violence Against Women on 25 November 2020 this year and the subsequent #16DaysofActivism which traditionally follows. To celebrate its release, IoNV collaborated with poet and former Australian slam champion Luka Lesson who premiered the release of this song.

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