One of the most positive outcomes from recent COVID-19 lockdowns is the promotion of flexibility in the workplace, and the ability to work from home on a more regular basis. Before the pandemic, only 8% of Australians frequently worked from home. This increased to 40% (1) at the height of the pandemic and has remained high even as restrictions have eased.
For many, hybrid or flexible work from home arrangements provide greater flexibility around family commitments, or provide work life balance. A study by the National Bureau of Economic Research in the United States (2) found that 35% of Australian’s said they would quit their job if they were forced to return to the office full time.
But for those living with family violence, regular working from home arrangements can further isolate the victim, prevent them from seeking support and assistance, and allow the perpetrator greater control over all aspects of their life.
When the home becomes the workplace, it is the responsibility of the employer to manage the risk of violence, particularly when a perpetrator makes threats of violence, or is violent when the victim is at work.
What can employers do?
Workplaces can play an important role in responding to, and helping to prevent, family violence. As part of mitigating that risk, employers should:
Increase communication around family violence to develop a supportive environment so an employee feels able to safely discuss these issues.
Have a workplace policy around family violence support and ensure it’s widely distributed.
Increase and maintain one on one communications with employees to assess ongoing risks to health and safety.
Provide information around confidentiality and the other supports available (including counselling) via employee assistance programs, flexible work arrangements, unpaid family and domestic violence leave, other leave entitlements (sick or carers leave) and other entitlements available to them.
Develop a plan if the employee cannot be contacted for an agreed period.
Provide work mobile phones and laptops to ensure privacy and security.
When to seek legal advice
Access to legal advice is one of the many supports that a workplace can provide to a victim of family violence. The best time to seek legal advice is before the party seeks to leave the relationship. This allows time for planning, particularly in regards to safety, noting that victims of family violence are most likely to be at risk in the period leading up to and immediately following the separation.
Access to a specialist family lawyer can allow a victim to:
Plan the timing of the separation to ensure the safety of the family
Put the client in contact with necessary supports including therapy/counselling, and obtain financial assistance (DV grants/security assessments)
Allow the client to investigate their financial circumstances, and obtain evidence where possible have the opportunity to control the circumstances of the separation including:
Ensuring the perpetrator leaves, rather than the victim/children, by obtaining an intervention order prior to the separation occurring
Allowing the communication of separation to occur once the victim and/children are in a safe place not known to the perpetrator (thereby ensuring the children safe and in the care of the primary parent at the time of the separation)
Negotiating interim financial and parenting arrangements
Preventing further abuse, or an escalation of events which cause the victim to flee in dangerous circumstances
For further information and an obligation free initial consult, please do not hesitate to contact a member of our Family & Relationship Law team on (03) 9663 9877.
Monica Blizzard is an Accredited Family Law Specialist with the Law Institute of Victoria, a trained mediator and collaborative lawyer, and has 20 years experience working in family law. She is highly experienced in all manner of complex family law matters and is passionate about helping those escape family violence. Monica has presented numerous seminars for her peers (including for the Television Education Network and Legalwise) on topics such as Binding Financial Agreements, complex parenting and property matters (including surrogacy), child support and family violence. She also co-authored the Property Law section of the Lawyers Practice Manual.
(1) - Australian Bureau of Statistics, Characteristics of Employment data, August 2021 (2) - National Bureau of Economic Research. “Working from home around the World” Cevat Giray Aksoy, Jose Maria Barrero, Nicholas Bloom, Steven J. Davis, Mathias Dolls & Pablo Zarate, September 2022