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Rebecca Quilliam

Rebecca Quilliam is senior reporter at the APNZ News Service office in Wellington.

Domestic abuse costs millions in lost productivity - study

File photo / Thinkstock
File photo / Thinkstock

Workers who are harassed, stalked and subjected to violence by abusive partners bring that trauma to work with them, costing industry hundreds of millions of dollars in lost productivity, a new study has found.

Over half of the more than 1600 Public Service Association union members surveyed reported some experience with domestic violence, and 26 per cent had direct experience of family violence.

Of that 26 per cent, more than half needed to take time off work and 38 per cent said violence made it difficult for them to get into work.

The research was completed by Auckland University Public Health masters student Margaret Thomas.

Of the participants who reported their work performance was impacted, most (84 per cent) said tardiness was the primary effect, while being distracted, tired or unwell affected 16 per cent of respondents.

Ms Thomas said there was a lot of stories about victims being physically restrained for going to work.

"That probably surprised me - I expected it to be more emotional - you know berating and stopping people from going - but it wasn't; it's actually people physically being stopped."

The biggest workplace policy that would help abused workers was for employers to allow them to take paid time off work to go to court for custody issues or to move house, she said.

Green Party MP Jan Logie has recently put forward a bill that proposes workplace protections for victims of domestic violence.

She noted research by economist Suzanne Snively, which found that businesses were losing $368 million a year in productivity from the impacts of domestic violence in the workplace.

Women's Refuge spokeswoman Kiri Hannisin said offenders would often text their partner at work, ring the reception desk, stand outside the workplace all day, come into the reception area, or make prank phone calls to the victim.

"If she's severely beaten, she might not feel able to go into work, and lots of time off means a poor track record - and if she doesn't disclose (the violence), which often they don't, then a high turnover of jobs," Ms Hannisin said.

PSA national secretary Brenda Pilott said employers needed to "pay attention" to the issue.

She had heard of a case where a government department was reluctant to give an employee time off work to attend a family court hearing about the welfare of her children.

"For the employer not to recognise that was an appropriate use of domestic leave for example, indicated to us that there are still plenty of employers out there who don't understand that these are matters that are certainly in people's personal lives ... that are nonetheless having an impact on their work life."

Employers and Manufacturers Association chief executive Kim Campbell said apart from the "terrible personal trauma it causes and the lives that are shattered", there was a practical employers' point of view.

"And that is if you've got a good person who's living through that, then their productivity is affected."

He said most employers he knew would offer anger management services to the abusive partner and provide counselling to the victim.

"Because it's very difficult for them to be productive if they've got a black eye."

Ms Thomas said a large proportion of domestic violence victims were women, and most of the PSA members were women.

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Abusive tactics:

* Sabotage

Consists of actions the abuser takes to either stop the victim from going to work or cause them to arrive late.

Actions included disabling the car, failing to arrive for childcare or interfering with existing arrangements, hiding or destroying work uniforms or clothes, hiding car keys and even physically restraining or harming the victim.

* Stalking

Involves the perpetrator behaving in threatening ways directed at the victim.

This can include watching the victim while she works, lurking around outside her workplace, waiting for her after work or meeting her along her route home.

* Harassment

Behaviours can include making a scene at her workplace, not allowing her to finish her work, and repeatedly calling the victim or the workplace.

(Source: The Impacts of Domestic Violence on Workers in the Workplace, by Margaret Thomas)

- APNZ

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