What if I think someone is experiencing family violence but they have not told me?

It is OK to ask someone if they are safe if you suspect they may be experiencing family violence. Victims have told us that they do not mind being asked.

The way you ask and listen to their answers is important including listening non-judgmentally, believing them and taking their fears and concerns seriously.

Many employees are reluctant to disclose their situation due to fear of not being believed or fear that they will lose their job. Family violence can impact employees often leading to; disrupted work, decreased productivity, impaired capacity to work, absenteeism and resignation.

As an employer it is important to ensure that we do not penalise someone for being a victim, as having a job is a very important protective factor for victims.

As a manager or supervisor you may notice signs that your staff member may be experiencing family violence. Some of the workplace signs of family violence include:

  • physical Injuries / pain
  • anxiety / depression
  • recently separated or divorced
  • difficulty making decisions
  • fearful / guarded
  • partner checking up/always present
  • frequent absences
  • loss of concentration
  • inability to find money for basics
  • disruption to home life, homelessness
  • constant checking of phone or emails

In the end, the only way to be sure there is a problem is to ask. This might feel hard, but there are things you can do to make it easier.

You may be worried that the person experiencing the violence will get angry, upset or won’t want to talk. This may be the case, but often people are glad to be able to talk about what is happening.

Pick a quiet time to talk in private. Let the person talk at their own pace, don’t push them to say more than they feel ready to. The point of asking is not to get a disclosure but to let them know that you are there to offer workplace supports and information.

It’s better to talk to them about the things you’ve noticed that make you worried, than to give your opinion.

You can try some questions like:

  • I’m wondering if everything is OK at home?
  • I noticed you have not been yourself at work?

If they do disclose, the way you respond is important. Here are some tips.

Being listened to can be an empowering experience for a person who has been abused. Listen with eyes, ears and heart – with empathy and without judging. ‘That must have been very frightening / difficult for you.’

Assess and respond to her various needs and concerns—emotional, physical, social and practical (e.g. childcare). “What I’m hearing is that at the moment you need support around… ”

Show them that you understand and believe them. Assure them that they are not to blame. ‘Violence is unacceptable, and you do not deserve to be treated this way.” “It must have been difficult for you to talk about this.” “I’m glad you were able to tell me about this today.”

Ask what the person’s immediate concerns are. “Are you concerned about your safety or the safety of your children or pets?” Assist them to seek help from a more specialised service. “It must be difficult going through what you have experienced, you have the right to feel safe.”

Provide support by helping to connect to information, services and social support. “Would you like some support to help you deal with the situation?”

Remember you are not expected to be a family violence expert. Please consult with a specialist service if you have any questions. Also ensure that you refer the staff member to internal workplace support and specialist services as appropriate [link to referral page]

If the staff member indicates that they are not experiencing family violence you can thank them for answering their questions and let them know they can talk to you or the EAP or a family violence service in the future if need be.

Appropriate record-keeping relating to disclosures of family violence is important. Many workplaces offer family violence leave and other supports to victims so may need some record that there has been a disclosure and the staff member is seeking workplace support. If you are unsure what your workplace offers, check with HR.

Here are some tips to assist with documentation

  • Documentation should be made according to your workplace guidelines.
  • Only make a record of information that is needed to support the staff member.
  • Be factual.
  • Do not record family violence related information in employee files. HR should keep a separate confidential record.
  • Remember staff records can be subpoenaed

More information and resources for workplaces for supporting staff who experience family violence can be found here

Remember: Seek a secondary consultation if you are unsure about how to proceed. You can call a specialist family violence service such as 1800RESPECT (1800 737 732) or your local domestic and family violence crisis service to ask about a patient – using deidentified information – if necessary.

(This information was adapted from 1800RESPECT)