Workplaces can be safe spaces for women at risk: Our research on paid family/domestic violence leave

Workplaces can be safe spaces for women at risk: Our research on paid family/domestic violence leave

Employers can play an important role in helping women who experience family/domestic violence to stay safe, and rebuild their lives.

But not all workplaces are the same when it comes to supporting victims of violence, despite more employers speaking out on the issue and there being more public discussion on the need for paid domestic violence leave.

And with the growing number of female entrepreneurs and business owners – many of whom are spending a significant portion of their time working from home – not all women have a ‘workspace’ to go to.

Working with Good Shepherd Australia New Zealand, we recently surveyed women about the support they have or believe they would receive from their workplace if they experienced family/domestic violence.

Our report, Safe Spaces: A study on Paid Family/Domestic Violence Leave, is published today in the lead up to 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence, starting tomorrow (Saturday 25 November).

From our research we were pleased to find that almost half of those surveyed who were employed said they have access to at least one day of paid family/domestic violence leave.

However, 35% said they do not have access to such leave, and 17% said they were unsure about their rights to access it through their employer.

Attending appointments, finalising paperwork and organising to leave an unsafe home environment is time consuming and extremely difficult without taking time off work. Many women in this situation are forced to take unpaid leave. In some cases, this can mean the difference between a woman leaving an abusive partner or not, and /or can result in serious financial implications later on.

As we recently found interviewing Jenny (not her real name) regarding her experience of domestic violence, a lack of support and understanding from a superior or boss can put women at serious risk. In Jenny’s case, when she requested to work from a refuge while waiting for an intervention order, she was told she needed to be in the office. Jenny felt no choice but to quit her job for the sake of her own safety, leaving her unemployed for over a year.

Jenny’s story highlighted how employers can do more. But what about female entrepreneurs and women running their own businesses?

Three quarters of the female business owners and entrepreneurs we surveyed said they work from home at least 50% of the time. This may be an indication of the risks this growing cohort of women could face, when they don’t have access to a separate ‘space’ or environment that may provide safety outside of the home.

While our sample size of self-employed women in this study was small, some of the long-answer comments were telling. Self-employed female respondents said they would feel anxious about taking time out to deal with family/domestic violence due to the risk of losing clients, their income and possibly their business. Some also noted that family stability is key to their success as a business owner. The word ‘catastrophic’ was used repeatedly in response to this question.

A number of these business owners had personally been affected by family/domestic violence, and had been restricted from visiting interstate clients by an abusive partner. Two respondents said they had lost their entire business during a period of violence and had to start again.

Numerous women in the survey also raised concerns about the lack of support for casual workers when it comes to dealing with family/domestic violence. While this report hasn’t analysed this issue comprehensively, we see further opportunities to conduct research in this area.

The vast majority of respondents to our online survey (84%) said paid family/domestic violence leave is important in mitigating family violence in Australia.

But 67% of the employed women surveyed said their organisation needs to work on how to better support staff experiencing violence.

At a time when there are an estimated 800,000 women affected by violence in paid work, we believe this research can and should start further conversations regarding the role of employers and workplaces in keeping women safe.

And at a time when women are starting businesses at twice the rate of men and now make up over a third of all Australian business operators in Australia, we believe more research, attention and consideration needs to be given to the additional risk factors self employed women may face.

Thank you to the 552 women who participated in this research, many of whom opened up to share difficult stories about their circumstances. This is a small study, but we hope it serves as a catalyst for necessary conversations regarding the role of employment in mitigating the risk of family/domestic violence.

Thank you also to Good Shepherd Australia New Zealand who made this research possible, and which continues to support women and families everyday in rebuilding their lives.

Download the full report here

Some key stats to note:

  • 85% of all respondents believe paid family/domestic violence leave is important in mitigating family violence in Australia
  • 67% of employed respondents said their organisation needs to work on how to better support staff experiencing violence.
  • 37% of employed respondents said their employer offers no paid family/domestiv violence leave, while another 17% said they were unsure if their employer does or not
  • 18% said their employer offers six of more day
  • 49% of respondent said they would feel comfortable apply for paid family/domestic violence leave if they needed it, although one in five said they would not, the remainder were ‘unsure’
  • In long answers a number of employed women, particularly in smaller organisations, expressed concerns about violenceg the real reasons why they might require domestic/family violence leave

We surveyed 552 women, the large majority of whom were employed.


For free, con dential advice and support in relation to family/domestic violence, call 1800 RESPECT on 1800 737 732. If you, or someone you know, is in immediate danger, call 000.

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