NRA program sheds light on domestic violence

Last week, the National Retail Association (NRA) launched the Domestic Violence Retailer Support Hub backed by the Queensland government. The online initiative offers retailers webinars, podcasts, a hotline and other tools to help employers support their staff.

“There’s been a spike in domestic violence as a result of people being confined to their homes for such a long period of time due to COVID-19 and there have been people coming back to work because they’ve made a disclosure to their employers,” explained NRA CEO Dominique Lamb.

Domestic violence hotline 1800-Respect recently reported a 15 per cent rise in calls and 38 per cent increase in the usage of its online tool between March and April. According to the organisation, those two months were the second-busiest period it has ever experienced. Men’s Line has also experienced a 10 per cent rise in calls since the outbreak.

However, domestic violence is an issue particularly close to retail, given almost 60 per cent of employees are female and it is the highest employer of youth (18-24) in Australia, the demographics most likely to experience domestic violence. A report from the NRA in 2016 found that it costs the sector $1400 per case of domestic violence experienced by a staff member each year.

“With women making up more than half of the 1.2 million people employed in retail across Australia, there is a real need to equip businesses with the tools they need to address domestic violence,” said Queensland’s Minister for the Prevention of Domestic and Family Violence, Di Farmer.

“Too many workers lose their jobs as a result of domestic violence. That number can be reduced if we work together to educate workplaces on how they can support their workers.”

Currently, the National Employment Standards states that all Australian workers, whether full-time, part-time or casual, are entitled to five days of unpaid leave to deal with the impacts of family and domestic violence. However, some retail businesses offer staff additional paid leave and other support.

“We think it’s incredibly important to provide support to team members experiencing family and domestic violence and we know it can cause real and sustained disruption to a team member’s personal and working lives,” Damian Zahra, Bunnings’ general manager of human resources, told Inside Retail.

In addition to up to 10 days of paid leave for those experiencing family and domestic violence, resources are also available to the Bunnings team to help them identify someone who needs assistance. All staff have access to free and confidential counselling services and conversations around mental health and wellbeing are actively encouraged, Zahra added. Staff may also have the opportunity to move to a different Bunnings site if required. 

No longer a taboo

Family and domestic violence is not often spoken about in the community, but for staff to be kept safe and feel supported in the workplace, it needs to be openly discussed at all levels, said HR expert Richard Wynn from Compono. This culture then makes it possible for staff to comfortably approach their employer if and when necessary.

“Don’t hide behind emails and posters. Talk to people,” Wynn urged. “Raise awareness about domestic violence and its impact at work and don’t treat it as a taboo topic. Drive an agenda from the boardroom and throughout your organisation.”

Team members should be made clear of the business’ policies and how to access resources and other types of support such as flexible working arrangements, an Employment Assistance Program and other types of leave that may be of help, added Georgie Chapman, partner at HR Legal.

It is also possible that the source of the abuse may come to the workplace, so a safety plan may need to be developed in conjunction with the employee to ensure everyone is kept safe.

Ideally, a retailer’s policies will provide information on how confidentiality will be managed when family and domestic violence disclosures are made so affected staff feel safe talking to their employer.

“Family and domestic violence is deeply personal and often employees are reticent to make disclosures to their employer. Clearly communicating the organisation’s policy on family and domestic violence, together with training contact officers and managers in the policy will be important to ensure employees feel safe to make a disclosure,” Chapman said. Leaders should also be educated on how to respond when a team member makes a disclosure.

For victims of family and domestic violence, financial security and independence are vital to their future wellbeing and safety.

“Having a job can be a crucial factor enabling victims to leave the environment and relocate to safety. If you have the means to relocate someone (and of course, they want to) – then do it. Help them to escape while keeping their independence and financial stability,” suggested Wynn.

“If you’re not a business of that scale and you can’t relocate someone, at least demonstrate your understanding that domestic violence may impact someone’s performance and attendance at work. Communicate to employees that their job is safe while making reasonable adjustments to support them,” he said.

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