Friday 29th April 2022 from 9am

Wills & Estates Senior Associate Debbie Sage will join Robyn Hyland to talk about the importance of planning for end-of-life care and what options are available.

When domestic and family violence becomes a work, health and safety issue: new guidance for employers


Is your workplace set up to handle incidents involving domestic and family violence? Attwood Marshall Lawyers Commercial Litigation Senior Associate Jade Carlson and Family Law Associate Laura Dolan look at the duties of employers to mitigate domestic and family violence occurring at the workplace and how employers can support their employees who are victims of abusive behaviour.

Locally, residents seem overwhelmingly focused on an uptick in youth crime, particularly home break-ins and car thefts. However, commentators have questioned whether this “insidious problem” that eats up significant police and court resources is at risk of supplanting the exponential increase in domestic violence in the public consciousness.

If youth crime is receiving more airtime than domestic violence, it’s worth remembering that there were 5,252 breaches of Domestic Violence Orders (DVOs) recorded in 2023, compared to 2,781 car thefts.

Although addressing youth crime is undoubtedly crucial, it’s important to recognise that family and domestic violence is affecting a much larger segment of the population. Furthermore, there’s a significant correlation between youth crime and domestic and family violence.

Overlooking the correlation means neglecting the fact that children as young as eight, nine, and ten often find themselves on the streets at night because it’s a safer option than returning to a home plagued by domestic violence.

Indeed, the alarming growth of DVO breaches has been significant – with the number of offences on the Gold Coast last year clocking in at five times more than that for 2014.

Many may associate family and domestic violence with a home setting, that takes place behind closed doors.

But abusive behaviour can also affect workplaces.

So, it’s welcome that national policy body SafeWork Australia has recently updated guidance for employers on managing the risk of family and domestic violence in the workplace.

The new guidance reflects legislative changes under the “Closing Loopholes” Bill, which aims to enhance workplace conditions and safeguard workers.

Significantly, the Australian government has introduced ten days of paid family and domestic leave as part of the Fair Work Act 2009 reforms.

Whether an employee is working full-time, part-time or casually, the leave will be available at any point in the year (it’s not pro-rated) to help them deal with the impact of family and domestic violence.

That includes arranging for their safety or the safety of a close relative, attending court hearings or appointments with financial counsellors or legal professionals, and accessing police and support services.

What is domestic and family violence?

Recent statistics showing the uptick in domestic violence have senior police officials flummoxed, with outgoing Queensland Police Commissioner Katarina Carroll admitting that the rise in incidents – and the horrific stories behind them – cannot be easily explained.

She told the media that while it was clear more people were abusing their partners, it was an “extraordinarily complicated and complex” situation, and the numbers may also be attributed to increased awareness and more willingness to report incidents.

Domestic and family violence includes a wide range of abusive behaviours that can occur within relationships and households. It won’t always be sudden and explosive either – it can creep in over time, hidden within a relationship.

Abuse can take many forms and can start anytime in a relationship.

Behaviours may include physical violence, psychological abuse, sexual violence, financial abuse (such as denying someone access to money, including their own), spiritual or cultural abuse (such as preventing someone from taking part in practices related to their cultural beliefs or religion), and coercive control.

The definition of domestic and family violence is extensive and conduct that you may not consider to be domestically violent could give rise to an application for a Domestic Violence Order (DVO).

We map out the process for applying for a DVO here.

In a workplace setting, someone being controlled or abused may avoid social activities with colleagues, miss work a lot or be late often, have trouble going on work trips, or get a lot of personal calls or visits that disrupt their work.

Victims need to know that their workplace provides a safe environment to report abusive behaviour to their employers.

Family and domestic violence: a Work, Health and Safety (WHS) issue

SafeWork has published a six-page information sheet stating when family and domestic violence becomes a work, health and safety (WHS) issue. The fact sheet also explains the roles and responsibilities of employers and workers alike.

There may be a WHS risk of family and domestic violence when there is public access to the workplace, including through phone, email or social media. However, the report also raises scenarios such as an employee working alone, at home, on client visits, or moving between work locations or the car park.

The guidance applies to employees, contractors, subcontractors, apprentices, trainees, work experience students and volunteers who carry out work.

Employers must eliminate risks to health and safety at work “so far as is reasonably practicable” and proactively manage the risk of family and domestic violence from happening at work.

For example, employers could control risks by:

  • Ensuring the workplace is secure,
  • Implementing flexible working arrangements,
  • Ensuring workers are not alone or out of contact while working,
  • Changing work contact details if incidents have occurred that way,
  • Providing all workers with education and training,
  • Developing policies and procedures to address the risk, including setting up alarm systems, contact screening for communication devices, and a safe and secure reporting mechanism for incidents, and
  • Developing a support network for workers who are experiencing family and domestic violence, such as by providing information on services and communicating entitlements such as family and domestic violence leave, paid personal/carer’s leave, and flexible work arrangements.

This list is not exhaustive, and the information sheet further details steps that employers can take.

There is also a section in the guidance for what employers should do when they know or suspect one of their workers is using family or domestic violence at work.

They should, for example, ensure their business isn’t being used to perpetrate abuse and minimize the risks to the victim (such as blocking employees from misusing customer information to identify a former partner’s new address).

Workplace policies should also be in place setting out expected standards and behaviour of staff, including how to respond to worker who you suspect are not safe, or someone who uses or may use violence.

The Fair Work Ombudsman has also published a guide for small businesses to help them support their employees who may be experiencing family and domestic violence, which you can find here.

Workers, meanwhile, also have a duty under WHS laws to take “reasonable care of their own health and safety,” by complying with reasonable instructions and WHS policies and procedures at their workplace.

Legislation is changing to close loopholes in employment laws

Strict confidentiality requirements have also been put on employers to ensure the new entitlements for paid family and domestic leave appeal to victims.

Pay slips, for example, must not mention paid family and domestic violence leave but should be recorded as ordinary hours of work or another kind of payment such as an allowance, bonus, or overtime.

Another big change under the Loophole Bill is that it is now unlawful for an employer to dismiss or refuse to hire an employee because that individual has been, or is being, subjected to family and domestic violence.

“Subjection to family and domestic violence” has been added to the list of protected attributes under the Fair Work Act 2009 anti-discrimination provisions.

This means that employers cannot include in their agreements or awards any terms that discriminate against somebody because they have been subjected to family and domestic violence.

The changes were among several other reforms in the “Closing Loopholes” Bill that came into force at the start of the year – including a big focus on addressing discrimination and underpayments.

Attwood Marshall Lawyers – helping families through the toughest times

If you are involved in an employment dispute and would like to have a confidential discussion about your rights in the workplace, please get in touch with our Commercial Litigation Department Manager, Amanda Heather, on direct line 07 5506 8245, email or free call 1800 621 071.

We understand the sensitive nature of these matters and are here to support people through these challenging times.

If you are experiencing domestic and family violence in your relationship, our experienced family lawyers are available to discuss your circumstances and provide you with guidance quickly and confidentially. It is our goal to help you in a way that does not cause any more conflict than you are already facing, to ensure your safety is paramount, and to assist you with the overarching legal issues people often face when exiting a violent relationship.

Please contact our team by reaching out to our Family Law Department Manager, Donna Tolley, on direct line 07 5506 8241, email or free call 1800 621 071.

In addition to getting trusted legal advice, there are several hard-working support services available to help anyone affected by family and domestic violence:

  • 1800RESPECT (1800 737 732) – confidential information, counselling, and support services
  • DV Connect (1800 811 811) – 24-hour state-wide domestic violence hotline that offers free, professional assistance such as counselling, intervention, transport, and emergency accommodation for people in danger from a violent partner or family member.

Share this article


Jade Carlson

Senior Associate
Commercial Litigation

Contact the author

The contents of this article are considered accurate as at the date of publication. The information contained in this article does not constitute legal advice and is of a general nature only. Readers should seek legal advice about their specific circumstances. 

Brisbane Employment Law

Employment Law Sydney

Gold Coast Employment Law

Defamation Law

Employment Law

Download a Brochure

Please enter your details below and
a link will be emailed to you
Download Form

Compensation Law

Select your state