Business must stand up to domestic violence

Domestic violence costs New Zealand business $368 million a year, according to new research that says businesses could benefit from better victim-protection policies.

The report, commissioned by the Public Service Association (PSA) and released to coincide with the launch of Green MP Jan Logie's anti-domestic violence members bill, has made a number of recommendations it says will save businesses millions and help victims break the cycle of violence.

One in three New Zealand women will experience domestic violence in their lifetime, while women are also targeted at work and have trouble holding on to jobs.

Report author Suzanne Snively, a former partner at PWC, put the cost of domestic violence to business at $368 million a year.

Her report said there was growing evidence that the introduction of workplace protection for victims saved employers money that would otherwise be spent on recruitment, retraining, lost workdays and lower productivity.

"For every woman whose experience of violence is prevented as result of the workplace protections in a particular year, an average of $3371 in production-related costs can be avoided," the report said.

Snively said this was a conservative estimate.

Her report said evidence strongly showed that staying in work was critical to reducing the effects of violence and abuse experienced by victims.

"Security of employment enables those affected by domestic violence to maintain personal, family, financial and economic stability, in this way assisting them to find a pathway out of violence and to successfully build their lives," it said.

There were a number of barriers to implementing workplace protections.

"These barriers are due in part to current attitudes towards workplace health and safety training which can overstate the costs and understate the benefits from lower costs of recruitment, retention and retraining," the report said.

With appropriate protection, workplaces and employers could also enhance victim safety and help connect them with support services that led them to safer environments and staff retention.

"These factors increasingly empower victims to become self-reliant and confident employees," it said.

"In combination with the reduction in disruption to staff, employers are able to achieve strong productivity growth."

It would also allow them to break the cycle of violence more quickly.

The report made a number of recommendations including that employers create and implement tailored domestic violence human resources policies, allow victims to take up to 10 days special leave to address and resolve domestic violence problems, and raise awareness of the economic cost of domestic violence.

PSA national secretary Brenda Pilott said the research showed the significant savings that could be made if victims were properly supported in the workplace.

"The PSA has been working with employers to get agreed provisions that provide support at work for people suffering from domestic violence," she said.

"Employer-by-employer agreements will not provide for everyone, however, and that is why legislation is needed."

Green Party women's spokesperson Jan Logie said that with one in three women experiencing domestic violence, urgent action was needed to reduce the impact and to help victims rebuild their lives.

"Victims of domestic violence often lose their jobs because they may not be able to focus on their work, are unable to show up to work, or are stalked by their abusers while at work," she said.

Her bill would allow them to ask for help and give employers the tools they needed to support their workers and keep them in employment, helping the victim out of their ordeal and saving the business money in terms of productivity and staff turnover.

Employers were in a strong position to make a difference in the lives of victims, she said.

"This is a win-win solution that will benefit domestic violence victims, wider society, and businesses at the same time."

A spokesman for Women's Refuge said victims of domestic violence were often unemployed or underemployed and struggled to get work due to bad references, as violence affected their ability to do their jobs.

Fairfax Media