- Refresh your knowledge on the family and domestic violence leave (FDV leave) entitlements and supports available before your first conversation.
- Make sure any conversations you have are treated confidentially and done in a safe, private space.
- Your employee may choose not to speak to you about what they are (or are not) experiencing.
- Be gentle, non-judgemental and patient.
- Don’t ask for details.
- Your role here is not to be a counsellor or support person, but it’s a good idea to think about what to say and how to say it in this situation.
- These conversations can be difficult. Remember that 1800RESPECT is available to both you and your employee if you need support.
If you are worried that one of your employees might be experiencing family and domestic violence, or if they tell you that they are, it can be hard to know what to say.
These conversations can be especially difficult if you’ve experienced family and domestic violence yourself.
This resource gives you some tips for how to have these important conversations.
Ask your employee if there is anything you can do to ensure the workplace is safe for them and other employees.
Preparing for a conversation
If you are worried about an employee, it is important to talk to them.
The way you approach this conversation can influence:
- how much your employee will share with you
- whether or not they access their leave entitlements and/or support.
Look after yourself. Talking to your employee may be distressing. Reach out to support services like 1800RESPECT.
Anyone affected by family and domestic violence is encouraged to contact 1800RESPECT, the national domestic, family and sexual violence counselling, information and support service. If you or someone you know is experiencing, or at risk of experiencing, domestic, family or sexual violence, call 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732 or visit 1800RESPECT.
Call 000 in an emergency.
Make sure you have all the information you need to feel confident and prepared. This will help you to have a good conversation. That may look like:
- making sure you know what supports and leave entitlements are available to your employee. You can find more information on the Understanding the changes to family and domestic violence leave entitlements page
- printing off the Referral pathway for employees resource and the What employees need to know resource to share with your employee
- talking with a trusted person or professional service (e.g., community legal centre, 1800RESPECT, 1800FULLSTOP, etc.) about how to best approach the conversation. Remember, you need to maintain your employee’s confidentiality. This means you can ask for advice and support about what to say and how to say it, but you can’t share information that might identify them.
Your employee might not want to talk to you about this.
It can be helpful to schedule some regular check-ins in the lead up to having a deeper conversation.
TIP: It can be useful to schedule regular wellbeing check-ins with all employees so no one employee feels singled out in times of distress.
Having the conversation
- Have the conversation in person (if possible), rather than online or over the phone, as your employee may be overheard or monitored by their partner.
- Make sure you’re in a private and safe place where you can’t be overheard.
- Make sure you won’t be interrupted – put your phone on silent, turn off emails.
Be gentle – don’t force your employee to disclose their situation.
You may want to start with an observation or something like:
I’m worried about your wellbeing and safety. How can I help you?
I’ve noticed a change in your [behaviour/appearance/work habits].
How have you been going generally? I want to check that you’re okay.
Be patient – it might be hard for employees to talk about what they are experiencing
- Give your employee the time and space they need to respond.
- Be prepared for the fact that they may not ever want to talk about what they are experiencing – that is their choice.
- Remind your employee that anything they tell you is confidential.
- Explain any limits to this (e.g., if you need to let your payroll officer/accounts person know that leave is being taken, to support payroll processing and accurate leave balances being maintained.
- Repeat this with each conversation.
Listen and don’t judge – your response is really important.
- Communicate that you believe the person and that you are here to help, within the boundaries of your role and relationship.
- Try not to judge or comment on your employee’s personal circumstances. If you make a negative comment about the perpetrator of violence, your employee might not want to come and talk with you.
Did you know
A person experiencing family or domestic violence often won’t leave an abusive partner in the first instance.
Victim-survivors are at most risk of harm and death when they leave their partner.
Don’t ask for details
- You do not need to know the details of the abuse to provide appropriate support.
- Putting pressure on your employee to disclose more information than they feel comfortable and safe to share can lead to additional trauma and stress for them.
- Protect yourself and other employees from distress caused by vicarious trauma (being exposed to information about traumatic events and experiences).
Know your boundaries
- Remember, you are not a counsellor or a support person. Make sure to refer your employee onto professional support when you can.
What to cover
During the conversation, make sure you:
- talk about any safety concerns your employee might have in the workplace
- let your employee know about their family and domestic leave entitlements
- share any relevant support referrals, for example, “I have contact numbers of support agencies that I can provide to you. I can provide a quiet space for you to contact them”.
You can equip yourself with the confidence to discuss family and domestic violence at work by doing the Fair Work Ombudsman's free online course, Difficult conversations in the workplace.
You can also learn more by listening to episode three of the Small business, big impact podcast: How to have a difficult conversation.
For more guidance, you can also access Fair Work Ombudsman’s, A manager's guide to difficult conversations in the workplace resource.
How to respond if your employee requests leave
All employees (including part-time and casual employees) are entitled to take paid family and domestic violence leave.
While they need to let you know that they’re taking leave as soon as possible, in many cases this won’t happen until after the leave has started. This is OK.
Remember, care and compassion is key at this time:
- Reassure your employee that they can take the leave.
- Let them know that their confidentiality will be kept.
- Tell them the leave will not be shown on their pay slip.
- Offer your support.
- Ask, “Is there anything I can do to help you?”
- Offer to provide a list of support services.
While your employee is on leave:
- only contact them if you have their consent – this can be a difficult time, and your employee may not want you to reach out to them at this time. Employees may prefer a particular mode of contact (e.g., not a phone call, contact through a secure app, etc.). Make sure you give them the space they need but let them know they can talk to you if they need to.
- remind them that what they tell you will remain confidential.
Your employee will appreciate your support during this difficult time.
If you need to keep a record of the conversation (for example, regarding leave to be taken or a change in work arrangements), you should:
- let your employee know what you are recording, why, and how it will be used and stored
- alternatively, consider sighting the evidence and recording that evidence as sighted rather than storing it as a record
- keep the record secure and confidential
- dispose of the record when it is no longer required.
Want more information?
1800RESPECT is the national service for anyone impacted by domestic and family violence, including employers. Call 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732 or chat online via the website 1800RESPECT.org.au. The service is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, for information, counselling and referrals.
For further advice about your workplace rights or information about how to deal with workplace disputes, refer to the Fair Work Ombudsman and visit the Fair Work Ombudsman's Paid family and domestic leave page.
Visit the referral and support pathways page for additional support.