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Domestic violence and employment

Domestic violence and employment do not operate in mutually exclusive domains. Approximately two-thirds of women affected by violence in Australia are in paid employment. A 2011 survey of Australian workers found that 30% of the respondents had experienced domestic violence and 19% of respondents to the 2011 National Domestic Violence and the Workplace Survey who had experienced violence, said that the violence continued in the workplace in the form of abusive phone calls, texts and emails, or the perpetrator coming to the workplace.

In July 2013, amendments were introduced into section 65 of the Fair Work Act 2009 (FWA) which provide for victims of domestic violence and those caring for an immediate family member or member of their household who is a victim of domestic violence with a right to request flexible working arrangements. Flexible working arrangements may include changing hours of work (eg working less hours or changing start or finish times), changing patterns of work (eg working split shifts or job sharing) and/or changing the place of work (eg working from another office or working from home).

The FWA does not give a right to flexible working arrangements but rather a right to request. An employer is not obliged to agree to the request and can refuse on ‘reasonable business grounds’ and unfortunately there is no right of appeal against an employer’s refusal to grant the request.

However, the FWA does protect an employee against an employer taking adverse action against them for requesting flexible working arrangements. Adverse action is where an employer threatens to, organises or takes action by:

  • dismissing the employee
  • injuring the employee in his or her employment
  • altering the position of the employee to the employee’s prejudice, or
  • discriminating between the employee and other employees of the employer.

While there are limitations in the flexible working arrangements provisions contained in the FWA, these protections still play an important role in increasing the safety and job security of victims of violence and the people supporting them. Flexible working arrangements are vital for safety planning and provide time and flexibility for people experiencing domestic violence to recover and to attend appointments, go to court and make accommodation arrangements. Job security and an independent income are integral to those trying to leave violent relationships and those who are setting themselves up having left a violent relationship.