On 16 June 2010, Michel Carrol was killed by her de facto partner, Steven Leslie Hill, while working at home in their financial services business. The New South Wales Court of Appeal has upheld a decision last year that employers can be held responsible for domestic violence when staff work from home.
The Australian Institute of Criminology conducted a survey of 15, 000 women in May 2020 finding that 8.2% of women who lived with a partner had experienced physical violence in the preceding 3 months. That is almost 1 in 10 women who in the first 3 months of the Covid-19 pandemic suffered some form of physical family violence. People who have been stuck at home with abusive partners have reported being trapped with no ability to escape the situation.
With Covid-19 relief measures such as JobKeeper and JobSeeker set to end on 28 March 2021, experts are warning that Australia may see another spike in family violence incidents. Financial difficulties can be a significant risk factor in family violence, and these are expected to increase in many households following 28 March 2021. There is a two-fold effect, creating a greater risk for women working from home and limiting individuals from escaping from a violent situation with Professor Cathy Humphreys from the University of Melbourne highlights that these payments have been crucial in helping women and children escape the shadow pandemic of domestic violence and the removal of them might force more women back into abusive homes.
How can an employer spot the signs of family violence at home?
- Encourage video meetings where cameras are switched on. Use this as an opportunity to focus on the way an employee is acting, are they reluctant to have their camera on? Are they constantly looking at someone off-camera who may be monitoring their conversations? Other visual factors can include what clothes they are wearing, are they dressed to the climate, have there been changes to the way they do their makeup?
- Keep an eye out for changes in behaviour. If an employee is usually chatty at work and suddenly, they have become quiet at home this could be an indication of issues occurring in the background. Other signs could be that employees have become more detached and distant.
- Encourage employees to have social calls with each other. Management may not spot any changes in behaviour, but it is likely that other employees will notice changes in their colleagues will. Employers need to encourage this behaviour but not get involved, these conversations are stifled by employer intervention. These conversations may also improve morale with a lot of employees feeling isolated at is.
- Monitor behaviour after unexplained absences. If an employee is often getting sick or disappearing from work for short periods of time this may indicate there are problems at home. Arrange for a one-on-one meeting with an employee shortly after they return to see if there are any behavioural changes or visual cues that indicate trouble at home.
While none of the above are definite signs that employees are suffering from domestic violence, they can indicate that the employee is trying to hide something or is having some difficulties at home or work and more investigation or assistance is needed. These methods will also enable employers to spot other issues that employees may be having prior to them having a negative effect on their work. We encourage all employers and HR professionals to instigate some measures as part of their normal “work from home” policies and procedures.
 Hayley Boxall, Anthony Morgan, Rick Brown, ‘The prevalence of domestic violence among women during the COVID-19 pandemic’ (2020) Statistical Bulletin 28, Australian Institute of Criminology.