Domestic violence is a NZ epidemic:

  • One in three NZ women are physically or sexually abused by an intimate (ex) partner in their lifetime.
  • Rates of intimate partner violence are similar or higher in the Rainbow community than NZ overall.
  • NZ Police attend a domestic violence callout every four minutes.

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.

Domestic violence has a significant impact on the workplace - on the wellbeing and productivity of employees who experience it, or with someone close to them experiencing it, and their co-workers. It also impacts on the wellbeing and productivity of employees who perpetrate it.

Employers and businesses can play a vital role in creating a safe and supportive workplace for employees who experience domestic violence, holding staff accountable for work-related domestic violence while supporting change, and driving a culture shift to dramatically reduce NZ rates of domestic violence. 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. 

Find out how DVFREE Services can help.

Intimate partner violence (IPV) includes actions by abusive partners that aim to undermine their partner’s employment and independence through sabotage, stalking and harassment (Swanberg et al, 2005):

  • Sabotage can be anything from hiding or destroying a work phone or laptop, making the partner late for work, or disrupting their sleep so they are tired at work.
  • Stalking involves following the person to work, while they are on work business, or staying just outside the workplace. 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 involves behaviours that directly interfere with the victim working, for example constantly interrupting them at work with visits, phone calls, emails, texts, etc. or coming into the workplace to distract, annoy, or monitor the person.

In a PSA Survey of 1626 members (Rayner-Thomas, 2013), 26% of participants reported having personal experience of domestic violence and 58% of those participants were in paid employment at the time the domestic violence occurred. The survey also found:

“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%) of participants in paid employment reported that they needed to take time off from work because of the abuse. Most participants reported that the domestic violence impacted on their work performance by either making them late for work (84%) or making them distracted, tired or unwell (16%). Slightly more than half of participants (53%) did not disclose their abuse to anyone in their workplace, with privacy and shame being the most commonly cited reasons (92%).”

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.”

Employees experiencing domestic violence report feeling distracted, tired, unwell, needing to take time off for medical or legal reasons, being forced to take time off by the abusive partner, being late for work, being too upset to work, and so on. Women who experience severe intimate partner violence are eight times more likely to attempt suicide (NZ Ministry of Justice Crime and Safety Survey, 2009).

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, people who had experienced domestic violence report that the workplace acts as a respite from their abuser, and provides important stretches of time where they have physical safety and can make plans to leave their abusive partner.

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.

When an employee is experiencing domestic violence, this also impacts on work colleagues. One study showed that 45% of people who experienced domestic violence while employed disclosed their abuse to work colleagues (Safe at Home, Safe at Work survey, UNSW Australia 2011). Often people know or suspect that a colleague is experiencing domestic violence, even when it’s not disclosed.

Co-workers may feel distressed and anxious, try to help the employee, cover for the employee’s decreased productivity or missed work, or they may be directly harassed, threatened or harmed by the abusive person.

The PSA member survey (Rayner-Thomas, 2013) found that of the 252 participants who knew that a friend or colleague had experienced domestic violence, “27% reported that the domestic violence their friend or colleague experienced created conflict and tension with their co-workers.” (33% said they didn’t know what kind of experiences their friend had in their workplace).

More serious impacts on wellbeing – for example when an employee is killed or seriously injured by an abusive (ex) partner, can have a serious impact on wellbeing for all employees within an organisation.

Domestic violence also impacts on employees when they have someone close to them outside of work who is experiencing domestic violence – a friend or family member – and may be struggling to understand what’s happening and know what to do. They are likely to be distracted or distressed and miss work to help their friend or family member.

It’s important for domestic violence workplace programmes to also consider how to respond to employees that perpetrate domestic violence. Employees who perpetrate domestic violence sometimes use work time and work resources to perpetrate domestic violence, and are often targeting an employee in the same workplace. In addition to harming the person they are targeting, their behaviour also impacts on workplace productivity and can pose a risk to the reputation of their employer, especially if the employee is in a senior role or works with vulnerable people in their role.

Employees perpetrating domestic violence who want support to change rarely receive information or support from their employer to help them find and engage with appropriate services.

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

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)

Meeting the minimum legal obligations is not enough to provide a safe and supportive workplace for staff who experience domestic violence.

Go here for a comparison of DVFREE workplace recommendations vs legal requirements, relating to the Domestic Violence Victims Protection Act 2018 and other relevant laws.

If your organisation deals directly with the public, then your frontline staff will likely be exposed to customers who experience, and perpetrate, domestic violence. This may be in obvious ways, such as witnessing someone physically assault their partner or child in your premises. Or it may be in less obvious ways, such as a customer who cannot pay their bill because of their partner’s financial abuse.

Financial institutions are required by the NZ Financial Markets Authority to demonstrate how they meet the needs of customers experiencing vulnerability, of which customers experiencing domestic violence are a key group.

Customers experiencing or perpetrating domestic violence impact more on some organisations than others. Some are more likely to get disclosures from customers because their frontline staff establish longer term relationships with customers, or often speak with them privately, or visit them in their home. Hairdressers, nannies, plumbers, are just a few examples.

Some organisations are more likely to get disclosures from customers because the abuse impacts on their interaction with the organisation, for example financial abuse impacting on someone’s interactions with their bank or insurance company.

Staff who are exposed to family violence or hear disclosures about family violence from customers are likely to feel frightened or stressed, and not know what to do, which may lead them to do nothing or do the wrong thing that is unhelpful or unsafe for 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 more at risk and/or put your business at risk by doing the wrong thing.

Your organisation can take proactive steps to create appropriate policy and procedures, and provide necessary training for key staff, so that your frontline staff have clear guidance and support for responding to customers who experience or perpetrate domestic violence.

Adrienne had worked for a large organisation for many years. She had been physically and emotionally abused by her husband for 20 years. He worked in the same complex, in a different department. She finally decided to leave. She knew about her employer’s domestic violence policy, so she talked to HR about her situation, knowing that she would be supported. HR referred her to the Shine Helpline, and immediately put in place a security plan. Her husband’s boss also instructed him that if he entered her department, he would potentially face instant dismissal. With support from her employer and from Shine, Adrienne managed to leave her husband and stay safe.

Jason worked as a waiter. His boyfriend became increasingly abusive after they moved in together. He beat up Jason on a regular basis, and left bruises where no one could see them. Jason rang Shine’s Helpline for support because his boyfriend was harassing him at work and he was in danger of losing his job. His boyfriend started by texting 20-30 times a day. After a few days, Jason stopped responding to every text, and his boyfriend began ringing 15-20 times a night. 

Other co-workers had to pick up the slack every time he took a call. Jason’s boyfriend occasionally came into the restaurant and sat at the bar keeping an eye on him, and once followed him into the kitchen to loudly accuse him of flirting with another employee. Jason’s boss told him that he needed to get his partner under control or risk losing his job. Jason was too ashamed to tell his boss what was going on at home, and thought his boss would not be supportive even if he told him. Although Shine was able to support Jason to leave his partner, the abuse at his workplace continued and some months later he was fired.

Anna was a highly skilled worker who got on well with her patients and colleagues, where she’d worked for 15 years. She began dating and moved in with a co-worker who soon became jealous, possessive and violent. Her boyfriend checked up on her at work throughout the day. She began coming in late or not at all. She was often preoccupied and forgetful. She was too ashamed to tell anyone what was going on, and feared she wouldn’t be believed. Her boss told her he didn’t want to lose her experience, but if she couldn’t improve her performance he would have to take action. This caused Anna greater stress and anxiety.

Eventually Anna was injured by her boyfriend, ended up in hospital and was referred to Shine. Shine helped Anna leave her boyfriend safely, but she felt terrified at work, never knowing when he would appear. Shine eventually helped Anne to relocate, which meant leaving her job. If she had been supported by her employer and kept safe at work, Anna may have found the strength to leave sooner, avoid injuries and an enormous amount of stress and trauma. She may have been able to keep her job and the organisation would have kept a highly skilled and experienced worker.

The manager of retail business got in touch with Shine to discuss his concerns that a valued employee was being abused and he didn’t know how to help. With coaching from Shine, he raised the issue with Donna, and offered to support her. He brought Donna to Shine where she shared her fear of leaving her partner because of his threats to kill her. Shine and her boss helped Donna put in place a number of safety strategies, including getting a Protection Order, serving her partner with a Trespass Notice for the workplace, moving her temporarily from front desk duties, making a photo of her partner available to her workmates so they could warn her if he came to the office, and accompanying her to and from her car.

The partner was arrested and released on bail. He was later arrested again, once for breaching the Trespass Notice when he was observed by a staff member. He finally left her alone after finding that she was no longer vulnerable to his abuse. Donna is still in the job that she loves, and her boss has a staff member who is more loyal and committed than ever.

Janine’s relationship was great for two years. Then he went away on an exciting work project, began drinking and calling her all hours of the night. He was bipolar and still in a manic phase when he returned and began abusing her. One day he beat her badly. She rang police, he was arrested, and Shine began supporting her. She was in a senior work role and parenting two teenagers. In the months before the court hearing, he kept contacting her. He’d say things from ‘I love you, I’m so sorry’ to ‘It’s your fault I lost my son and I’ll kill myself.’ He attempted suicide three times. Police said he would likely go to prison. She felt guilty and wanted to withdraw charges.

Janine told her managing director what was happening. “If my partner was dying of cancer, there would have been some understanding. But my managers were uncomfortable with what I was going through and didn’t want to know. When my ex died in an accident, they couldn’t understand why I was grieving.” Suffering from depression, she went to three EAP sessions, but talking to Shine was more helpful. They reinforced what she needed to hear - that his situation wasn’t her fault, and his abuse was not okay. These messages and Shine’s referral to a good lawyer helped her get through, become stronger, and eventually find a new job with a more supportive employer.

As a victim of violence in the home, Rebecca found it difficult to get time off work while she was going through the process of leaving her abusive husband and trying to provide adequate support for her two young children through that difficult time. People in her workplace didn't understand what she was going through and saw her as an unreliable, emotional wreck. After many years of abuse, Rebecca finally left her husband with help from Shine.

According to Rebecca, “If my work had supported me through that time and given me paid leave when I needed it to deal with what was going on, I would have been in a better frame of mind and more focused on my job while I was at work. Instead, I made a lot of mistakes at work and wasn’t a very happy person to be around. A lot of things happened outside work, leaving my children and me mentally scarred because I didn’t have enough time and energy to get things sorted with our safety planning.”

Zac started his new reception job the same day he broke off his relationship with Anton. Two days later, Anton was out in front of Zac’s office, watching him. He was there all week. Workmates started noticing. Zac was embarrassed and anxious. Zac finally went out to talk to Anton – ending up with Anton shouting at and threatening him. Zac came inside feeling humiliated. His manager asked him to come in her office. Zac was scared he would get a warning or lose his job.

Instead, Lori asked him how he was feeling. She’d seen the man outside shouting and was concerned for Zac’s safety. She reminded him about their domestic violence policy and that he had a right to be safe. She offered to help him with a workplace safety plan and to have him ring Shine for help to deal with Anton outside work. With a trespass order, a temporary shift of desk and some other support strategies, the stalking ended and Zac felt very grateful.