Family and domestic violence


Family and domestic violence is a workplace issue. Each year, Australians from all demographics experience family and domestic violence, impacting their productivity, mental health and wellbeing, and safety at work.

You can access information about:

What is family and domestic violence?

There is no universal definition of family and domestic violence. In the workplace context, the Fair Work Act defines it as violent, threatening or other abusive behaviour by an employee’s close relative that:

  • seeks to coerce or control the employee
  • causes them harm or fear.[1]

A close relative can mean a spouse or former spouse, de facto partner or former de facto partner, child, parent, grandparent, grandchild, sibling, or kin. 

Examples of family and domestic violence include:

  • physical violence, including physical assault or abuse
  • sexual assault and other sexually abusive or coercive behaviour
  • emotional or psychological abuse, including verbal abuse and threats of violence
  • verbal abuse, including threats of violence, humiliation, and intimidation
  • economic abuse, including denying a person financial autonomy or basic necessities
  • social abuse, including forced isolation and control of social activity
  • stalking and harassment, including through electronic communication or social media
  • property damage.[2]

Who experiences family and domestic violence?

Family and domestic violence occurs across all demographic groups, regardless of socio-economic background, religion, education level, age, gender or sexual orientation. Data shows that 2.2 million Australians have experienced physical and/or sexual violence from a partner and 3.6 million Australians have experience emotional abuse from a partner.[3]

Both women and men experience violence and most men are not violent. However, the research shows clear gendered patterns in the perpetration and victimisation of family and domestic violence. Women are more likely than men to experience physical, sexual and emotional violence by an intimate partner and most victims – both men and women – experience violence from a male perpetrator.[4] The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare reports[5] that:

  • 1 in 6 women and 1 in 9 men were physically and/or sexually abused before the age of 15
  • 1 woman is killed every 9 days and 1 man is killed every 29 days by a partner
  • 25% of women and 5% of men have experienced emotional abuse from a current or previous cohabiting partner.

How does family and domestic violence impact the workplace?

Employers have a legal responsibility to protect their employees from family and domestic violence in the workplace. They must create an environment that is safe and promotes equality.

The Fair Work Ombudsman’s Employer Guide to Family and Domestic Violence explains a number of ways that family and domestic violence impacts the workplace.

  • The workplace may be a safe place or refuge for employees experiencing violence. Or, it may be the place of ongoing violence via phone calls, emails, texts or stalking. This can put both employees and their colleagues in danger.
  • Violence may impact employees’
    • performance and productivity, causing employees to take leave or feel distracted, anxious or tired
    • ability to get to work.
  • Violence can cost businesses, as a result of illness or absenteeism, employee turnover, reduced productivity and possible legal liabilities. 

Benefits of supporting employees

There are many benefits for a workplace when the health, safety and wellbeing of employees is prioritised. The Fair Work Ombudsman’s Employer Guide to Family and Domestic Violence describes the benefits to responding to family and domestic violence as:

  • improved outcomes for employees affected by family or domestic violence
  • improved productivity, staff engagement and work satisfaction
  • reduced illness and absenteeism
  • reduced staff turnover, resulting in lower recruitment and training costs
  • reduced legal liabilities.

What can workplaces do?

Meet your legal obligations

Organisations are responsible for meeting their legal obligations in regards to the health and safety of their employees, including protecting employees from family and domestic violence in the workplace. The Fair Work Act provides minimum entitlements to employees experiencing domestic and family violence. Under the Act, employees can:

  • request flexible working arrangements
  • access unpaid DFV leave
  • access paid or unpaid personal/ carers leave in some circumstances.

You can access information about your fair work and WHS obligations via:

Develop a formal policy or strategy

In addition to meeting their legal requirements, organisations are increasingly developing a formal policy or strategy to support employees experiencing family or domestic violence. In the 2019-20 reporting period, two-thirds (66.4%) of organisations had a formal policy or strategy in place. This is up from just 39.3% in 2015-16.

For guidance on how to develop an effective policy, see The Fair Work Ombudsman’s Employer Guide to Family and Domestic Violence.

Provide paid leave

Similarly, an increasing number of organisations are providing access to paid domestic violence leave. In 2019-20, around one-third (35.5%) of organisations provided this, up from just 12.1% in 2015-16.

Offer other supports

Other supports provided by leading practice organisations include:

  • staff training
  • leadership commitment and role modelling 
  • workplace safety and security measures
  • free and confidential counselling services 
  • referral pathways to relevant organisations.  


[2] Australian Bureau of Statistics. (2009). Conceptual Framework for Family and Domestic Violence.

[3] Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. (2019). Family, domestic and sexual violence.

[4] Our Watch, Australia’s National Research Organisation for Women’s Safety (ANROWS) and VicHealth. (2015). Change the Story: A shared framework for the primary prevention of violence against women and their children in Australia. Our Watch, Melbourne, Australia

[5] Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. (2019). Family, domestic and sexual violence.