5 November 2020

Please help us do something to support women and children fleeing domestic violence. Help us give them somewhere to go

By Fay Calderone

I’m past sad. I’m past disappointment and the other polite words we use to express sorrow. My blood bloody boils every time I hear that another woman has been killed at the hands of a domestic partner. My heart aches for the children that are left behind and the lives that are ruined. My body is numb and my head can’t cope when I read about children harmed or killed in their own homes. The problem is so widespread, the issue is so systemic and the COVID-19 pandemic has made an already tragic state of affairs so much worse. Money won’t make all the difference but we have to do something and it’s a good start.

We have partnered with our client Parramatta Mission to support the Thelma Brown Cottage. Thelma Brown Cottage is an accommodation program for women and their children escaping domestic and family violence. It consists of eight furnished two-bedroom apartments. Each apartment can accommodate women with up to five children each and additional infants. Thelma Brown Cottage provides vital early intervention for children, giving them and their mothers the safety and support they need to live lives free of violence.

Devastatingly, demand for services such as Thelma Brown Cottage outweighs our capacity to supply. Parramatta Mission accommodates less than half of the women requesting assistance. What happens to those who are turned away, having fled their homes with their children? Where on earth do they go? What on earth do they do? As a mother, this is an unimaginable situation to be put in.

Why now?

The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in a significant increase in domestic violence in Australia.

Statistics have shown that 1 in 10 Australian women in a relationship have experienced domestic violence during the pandemic.

33% of women reported the start of the pandemic as the first time they had experienced any form of domestic violence.

The Australian Institute of Criminology (AIC) reported more than half of women who experienced physical or sexual violence before the pandemic said the violence became more frequent or severe since the start of the pandemic. With more employees working from home, there is inherently a greater risk of exposure to abusers and for domestic violence to go unnoticed.

Employers, I am looking to you

Employers play an active role in ensuring they are protecting employees who may be subject to domestic violence. A key way of implementing this amidst the pandemic is to ensure options are available for employees who do not feel safe at home or working from home. For example, a potential alternative to working from home includes enabling the employee to continue working from the office or workplace where this is appropriate and in accordance with COVID-19 government restrictions. Employers can also provide short-term alternative accommodation to employees and consider flexible work arrangements, such as adjustments to working hours or work locations.

Employers have duties under work health and safety legislation regarding employees who are working from home. Under these laws, employers have a duty of care even when employees are working from home as the workplace is defined as ‘the place where work occurs’. As a result, employers must identify any potential physical and psychological risks to an employee in the ‘home workplace’. It is essential that employers have open communication with employees and that they feel comfortable to discuss these potential risks so that they can be managed and controlled.

Most employees also have protection under modern awards entitling them to five days unpaid leave if they are subject to family or domestic violence. This leave extends beyond employees’ existing sick leave and personal carers’ leave entitlements, allowing employees to have time to go to the police, pursue legal advice or arrange for new accommodation if necessary. The award entitlements provide a base level of protection for employees and employers should implement domestic violence policies that cover employees across all organisations beyond those covered by awards. This ensures employers are better prepared to deal with employees who may be victims of domestic violence and promotes consistency in the treatment of all employees.

Overall the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted and evidently increased the prevalence of domestic violence. It is apparent that employers have inherent duties and play an essential role in maintaining the safety of employees who may be victims of domestic violence. Employers must also consider strategies beyond the minimum to legislative requirements to actively respond to domestic violence. This can include:

  • ensuring employees have access to confidential support within and external to the business to disclose family and domestic violence;
  • developing procedures for contact information screening such as email, phone numbers, devices and internet profile;
  • arranging regular check-ins with employees over video to better care for their wellbeing; and
  • developing and implementing procedures for an emergency response to instances of family and domestic violence in the workplace, including when to involve police.

Organisation specific responses: What are your strengths? How can you help?

At Hall & Wilcox we have partnered with Domestic Violence NSW to provide pro bono legal support to them and their member organisations. Our support will ensure any organisational legal issues do not distract these agencies from their important work of providing expert services to women in need. We also lend our legal expertise to law reform projects to improve protections for women subject to domestic violence. We have partnered with Women’s Legal Service Victoria to provide legal support to a number of women, particularly those who find themselves with migration law problems following relationship break-ups because of family violence.

We need Executives to speak out against family violence: If not you than who?

I am horrified by the ongoing violence against women in our community. The COVID-19 pandemic has brought many challenges. The increased prevalence of domestic violence is, I think, the most troubling. It’s a scourge on our society.

Tony Macvean | Managing Partner

Be sure to select 'Other', then 'Thelma Brown Cottage' as the donation recipient.

Please join us for an event to raise vital funds to support Thelma Brown Cottage

We'll be joined by an expert panel including Georgie Dent, Executive Director at The ParentHood and Lisa Annese, CEO at Diversity Council Australia and hear inspiring keynote addresses of what we all can do to move towards eradicating violence against women and children.

When: Thursday 19 November, 11am – 12pm AEDT

Watch a short message from Parramatta Mission and Thelma Brown Cottage about the work they do

Contact

Fay Calderone

A highly regarded employment lawyer, Fay advises on proactive compliance, discrimination and performance management.