Encyclopedia of Business and Professional Ethics

Living Edition
| Editors: Deborah C Poff, Alex C. Michalos

Corporate Social Responsibility and Domestic Violence

  • Alice de JongeEmail author
Living reference work entry
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-23514-1_551-1


This entry begins with a brief description of two phenomena of twenty-first-century societies: the persistent problem of domestic violence and the dissolving boundaries between home and work. The entry then discusses the challenges these two phenomena present for ethical reasoning about corporate social responsibility in relation to employees affected by domestic violence. A number of ethical frameworks for understanding these challenges are discussed. The final section of this entry focusses upon six specific questions for businesses to ask when addressing the impacts of domestic violence in the workplace: (i) the question of leave entitlements for workers affected by domestic violence, (ii) the challenge of dealing with privacy concerns, (iii) dealing with workplace safety issues raised by domestic violence, (iv) whether and how to establish a workplace support network for affected workers, (v) whether and how to provide counselling and referral services, and (vi) how to manage the enterprise relationship with wider society in relation to domestic violence.

The Twenty-First Century: A Persistent Problem of Domestic Violence and Dissolving Boundaries Between Work and Home

The term “domestic violence” (also known as “intimate partner violence”) is defined here to include: “any incident or pattern of incidents of controlling, coercive or threatening behaviour, violence or abuse between those aged 16 or over who are, or have been, intimate partners or are family members. This includes: psychological, physical, sexual, financial and emotional abuse. It also includes ‘honour’-based violence and forced marriage” (NICE 2014: 1).

The cost of domestic violence, including the costs of lost productivity and of legal, health, and other social services, has been estimated at up to 2% of global GDP (The Economist 2018). The total cost to the US economy of the almost 5 million domestic violence cases recorded per year is about $460 billion p.a. (Lomborg and Williams 2018). Domestic violence costs the UK an estimated £15.7 billion in 2008 (Walby 2004; NICE 2014: 3–4; ILO 2011). In Canada, a Department of Justice study estimated that domestic violence cost employers $78 million in 2009 (Department of Justice 2016).

In Australia, New Zealand, and Canada, growing awareness of the persistent prevalence of domestic violence has prompted Royal Commissions and taskforce inquiries (Queensland Taskforce 2015; Victorian Royal Commission into Family Violence 2016; Andrews 2015), and legislative initiatives to incorporate domestic violence leave entitlements into workplace standards. Yet overall throughout the Western world, funding cuts to social services mean that fewer victims of violence have access to support, while rates of domestic violence continue to rise or remain persistent (Leins 2015; CDC Survey 2015; Bureau of Justice statistics 2013; Murray and Theobald 2014).

Domestic violence impacts on the workplace in a number of ways. First there are the costs of lost time and productivity of employees who are dealing with the impacts of domestic violence. Second, there are the impacts on fellow workers when a violent partner follows the affected worker into the workplace, creating a safety incident, or when the affect employee arrives at work injured, distressed, and/or fearful – even seeking to use the workplace as a refuge after hours (Murray and Powell 2007, 2008; Wathen et al. 2014).

Other issues arise when it is the violent partner who is an employee. Such employees can bring violence into the workplace. They can use workplace time and resources to facilitate stalking and/or abusive activities. They are more likely to be absent or underperforming (Murray and Powell 2007, 2008; Walden and McFerran 2014; Trade Union Council 2014; Wathen et al. 2014).

The changing nature of the modern workplace means that the impacts of domestic violence can no longer be ignored. The workplace and the domestic environment can no longer be treated as discrete or separate environments (Ericson 2013; Woods 2012; Workplaces Respond). As the proportion of women in the workforce increases across the developed world, policy-makers and businesses are increasingly forced to recognize that their employees have obligations as parents, carers, and partners (Skinner and Pocock 2014). Family-friendly policies are altering workplace practices and even the workplace physical environment (such as when creche, day-care, and/or baby-care facilities are provided) everywhere (Albrecht 2003; Wajcman 2002; Skinner and Pocock 2014). Domestic violence is an unfortunate aspect of family life for many employees, and failure to address its impacts in workplace policies discriminates against those affected.

Just as the workplace is altering to incorporate domestic concerns, so also the domestic environmental is adjusting to workplace demands (Pearson and Seyfang 2002; Ericson 2013; Bardoel 2012). Daily family routines are tailored around workplace needs, especially disruptive when shift-work is involved. Telecommuting turns the home into a workplace, and the physical space is altered accordingly (Ericson 2013; Woods 2012; Bardoel 2012). While telecommuting provides greater flexibility, it also means that the home is no longer a place free from workplace demands (Woods 2012; Ericson 2013; Bardoel 2012).

Modern communications technology can both facilitate domestic violence and be used to address it (Woods 2012). Abusers can use GPS and mobile phone technology to stalk their victim(s). Email and texting service can become transmitters of abusive messages (DVRCV website; Hand et al. 2015; Woods 2012). Yet modern technology can also be used to help victims seek help and decrease isolation (Woods 2012). Evidence collected via mobile technology can be used to bring abusers and stalkers to account. Communications technology can provide security for victims through emergency signaling (NNEDV 2014; Finn 2000).

The Expanding Scope of Corporate Social Responsibility: Ethical Reasoning About Corporate Responsibility in Relation to Domestic Violence

As Scherer and Palazzo (2011) have noted, “under the conditions of globalization, the strict division of labour between private business and nation-state governance does not hold any more” (2011: 899). In recognition of this changing environment, “many business firms have started to assume social and political responsibilities that go beyond legal requirements” (Scherer and Palazzo 2011: 899–900). Employee welfare has at the forefront of this expanded area of corporate responsibility (Jenkins et al. 2002; Compa 2008; Flanagan and Gould 2003; Yu 2008; US Dept. of State Archive 2001–2009). The International Labour Organisation (ILO) and Social Accountability International have led the shift toward international recognition of corporate responsibilities for employee welfare (SA8000 2014; Compa 2008). The OECD and the UN Human Rights Commission have led the move toward universal recognition that transnational businesses have a duty to respect human rights more generally (Ruggie 2008, 2010; UNHCR 2011). Individual companies have developed their own voluntary codes of conduct in relation to employee welfare (Compa 2008; Flanagan and Gould 2003; Pearson and Seyfang 2002). The question arises, however, of exactly how far the responsibilities of business for employee welfare should extend into what has traditionally been seem as the private sphere of domestic life.

Questions arising in relation to business responsibility for employee welfare have been discussed from a number of different philosophical perspectives. Sison and Fontrodona (2012), for example, draw upon three schools of thought to develop a conception of the common good applicable to the relationship between the corporation and its employees. From Aristotle, they borrow a general conception of the common good defined in terms of eudemonia – a shared human flourishing. From Aquinas, they adapt a conception of the common good to extend it beyond the broader social polis, to include the transnational corporation. From Catholic Social Thought (CST), Sison and Fontrodona (2012) borrow a multilevel way of thinking about the need for all social actors, including business organizations, to contribute to the common good. For Sison and Fontrodona (2012), combining these three perspectives highlight a view of the corporation as both able and liable to participate in working toward the common good of wider society. Yet this view has little to say about the extent to which the firm, as a shared enterprise, might be responsible for the flourishing of individual employees outside of the workplace. It is a perspective which, by emphasizing the common or shared nature of the corporate endeavor, tends to lose sight of the individual within it.

A social contract view (Rawls 1971, 2001) of corporate responsibility in relation to employee welfare goes further toward addressing the needs and rights of individuals within the corporation and society. According to Bishop (2008), a social contract viewpoint respects corporate autonomy and the right of companies to pursue private purposes, but also places upon corporation concomitant responsibilities:

to respect the freedom and human rights of all people, and not to interfere with government programs that [provide] … education … and … a safety-net that prevents destitution [as well as other] … rights and responsibilities … established by … legitimate democratic processes. (2008: 191)

Examples of corporate responsibilities “established by legitimate democratic processes” include minimum wage legislation, occupation health and safety standards, and minimum award conditions and entitlements. Awards and Enterprise Bargaining Agreements (EBAs) exist in many jurisdictions as a primary forum for negotiating the relationship between the workplace and the domestic sphere. In an increasing number of jurisdictions, these entitlements now include, in addition to parental, carers’, and other leave entitlements, employee access to domestic violence leave (Schneiders 2012; UNSW Gendered Violence Research Network website). A social contract perspective, however, justifies and explains such provisions as essentially voluntary, with each side able to enter the pact in pursuit of self-interest.

Another perspective known as stakeholder theory combines both Aristotelian notions of the common good and social contract theory. According to Freeman (2008), stakeholder theory is based on the notion that “Businesses and executives are responsible for the effects of their actions. They are responsible precisely to those groups and individuals that they can affect or be affected by” (2008: 164). Freeman is critical of the tendency for corporate social responsibility discourse to fail at any attempt to define the boundaries of business’s responsibility for problems which are essentially social in nature. His answer is to draw the boundaries as far as “stakeholders” and no further (2008: n. 9).

Feminist theories provide another set of perspectives that (like Freeman) view employees not as units of production, but as “whole, fully integrated human beings, with names, faces, families, and pasts …” (Freeman 2008: 163). What the many different bodies of feminist thought share in common is an ethical criterion that places emphasis on the concrete reality of people’s lives (Ashcroft 2000, 2001; Phillips 2006; Wajcman 2002). A feminist lens thus becomes one through which the true impacts of domestic violence in the workplace can perhaps be most clearly understood. In particular, a feminist lens ensures that policy-makers do not lose sight of the fact that “Domestic violence is a gendered issue. … the rate of domestic and family violence perpetrated against women is significantly higher than it is against men” (Queensland Task Force 2015: para. 2.3; see also Bureau of Justice Statistics 2013) and elsewhere in the Western world. Moreover, feminist reasoning, by paying close attention to social relations, serves to strengthen the foundations of modern democracy in a way that abstract notions of eudemonia, or individualistic notions of the social contract, cannot.

In the close attention it pays to the importance of social relations, feminist theory shares many of the same concerns as those shared by CSR scholars (Bishop 2008; Scherer and Palazzo 2011; Flanagan and Gould 2003; Compa 2008). As Albrecht explains:

Modern, democratic societies depend upon families to pass on traditions of meaning and value, to revaluate these traditions in new generations, and to model and teach this generational process of becoming acting moral agents. Democratic societies depend upon ordinary citizens, as nature moral agents, to do the work of maintaining democratic communities and institutions. Ultimately, it is the purpose of both the products and processes of business to serve these foundations of individual and social wellbeing. (2003: 180)

Related to this is the way feminist scholars have exposed power relations within social structures. This is useful in creating awareness of the biases built into existing processes of negotiating, drafting, and implementing policies aimed at addressing domestic violence and its impacts (Phillips 2006; Wajcman 2002; Ashcroft 2000, 2001).

Dealing with the Impacts of Domestic Violence in the Workplace: Issues for Business to Consider

Responding to domestic violence challenges by incorporating new practices and altering existing practices within the workplace involves risks and challenges for managers (Yuan et al. 2011). Diplomacy is required when consulting with stakeholders about change; and managerial skills must be called upon to ensure coordination across all relevant functions (Yuan et al. 2011; Workplaces Respond website; Swanberg et al. 2005). No single set of “best practice” guidelines will apply to all workplace settings. But some questions are generally applicable to nearly all modern Western workplaces (ALRC 2012; Queensland Taskforce 2015; Phillips 2006; Wathen et al. 2014; Murray and Powell 2008). The first of these is the question of tailored leave entitlements for workers affected by domestic violence.

Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and the Philippines are among the countries where formal legislated entitlements to domestic violence leave for employees can be found. Each jurisdiction has its own combination of paid and unpaid leave entitlements, and there are important variations in levels of awareness, access, and enforcement (ALRC 2012; ILO 2011; TUC 2014). Even in these nations, it is business which must take the lead in providing genuine access to supported leave for employees affected by domestic violence. Supported leave means more than an entitlement to remain absent from work without penalty. It means that affected employees have access to financial entitlements and support services while they remain affected by a violent domestic situation. Affected employees need the ability to tailor, in consultation with the employer, the manner in which they access different entitlements and services according to their individual circumstances. For employers unable to provide immediate access to paid leave entitlements, an expanded definition of existing “special,” “family,” “flexible,” or other leave entitlements can be used as a first step.

Both parties bear rights and responsibilities in relation to the duty to consult. The affected employee owes a responsibility to make their needs clear to the employer in so far as it affects existing workplace arrangements and to keep the employer informed as relevant circumstances change. The employer is responsible for ensuring that the employee has access to culturally appropriate consultation and other services, and a duty to protect the affected employee’s right to privacy.

The right to privacy is one of the basic rights outlined in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights 1966 (Article 17). The employer’s undertaking to keep employee personal information confidential is essential to the employee’s dignity and security. The employee’s undertaking to keep the employer informed of workplace-related circumstances is essential to the preservation of workplace routines and workplace security. An effective enterprise agreement consultation clause retains the balance between these demands.

For employee perpetrators of violence, privacy is also an essential part of facilitating disclosure and providing support in appropriate cases. Employee perpetrators assessed as being able to benefit from attending counselling/treatment are most likely to benefit if they are able to remain in the workplace. Guarantees of confidentiality are an important part of making this possible.

Integrating privacy as a routinized part of workplace practices may require investment in additional record keeping/communications infrastructure and human resources and forms an essential aspect of workplace safety. Where needed, managers need to be able to efficiently arrange new office premises, phone number, and/or email address, or even altered workhours, for employees affected by domestic violence. All employees need awareness training so that if an abusive partner seeks entry to the workplace (physically or virtually), the situation can be dealt with and so that staff are able to assist and refer affected colleagues where necessary.

In larger organizations especially, workplace safety is enhanced if a network of trained support staff is established throughout the workforce. A choice of contact points for affected employees is particularly important for culturally diverse workplaces. It also provides for a larger number of referral points able to refer affected staff to appropriate external support services – medical, legal, migration, housing, and other social services.

In the case of employee perpetrators, the challenge for HR is to balance a zero-tolerance approach to domestic violence with a safe and supportive environment for rehabilitation and treatment where that is possible. Case-by-case assessments are desirable but costly. Clear guidelines setting out the obligations of perpetrator employee assessed as willing and able to benefit from counselling and/or treatment are essential, along with HR staff trained in their implementation.

“Positioning” refers to adding independent, peripheral CSR routines that may not exert much influence internally; but serve to facilitate linkages between an organization and the community within which it is located. When positioning strategies serve to generate working relationships between the firm and community service providers, this can evolve into what Yuan et al. refer to as “thickening” – making use of externally sourced services to enhance the effectiveness of workplace policy implementation (2011: 83).

A public commitment to opposing domestic violence is an important part of “positioning.” It stands as a symbol and a message to both employees and the wider community of what the company stands for. As such, it needs to come from, and be endorsed by, the highest level of organizational authority. There must be a commitment to developing a supportive workplace in which victims of domestic violence can come forward for help and support (see, e.g., Brimbank City Council 2014; NAB Domestic Violence Policy 2011; City of Sydney 2011; Loddon Shire Council 2014).

A strong organizational statement condemning abusive behavior is an equally necessary part of addressing the impacts of domestic violence in the workplace. Such a statement provides a firm foundation for penalizing the misuse of workplace resources by perpetrators and for directing relevant employees to specific counselling and, where needed, treatment services.

A public commitment to addressing the causes and impacts of domestic violence also facilitates the sharing of experience and expertise with relevant community organizations, including unions, employer organizations, and local service providers. This requires investment of resources – an investment in the building of relationships of reciprocity and trust (Ashcroft 2001; D’Enbeau and Buzzanell 2013; Pearson and Seyfang 2002).

This entry has drawn upon major streams of ethical theory – Aristotelean ethics, social contract theory, and feminist thought – to explore the limits of corporate social responsibility in relation to domestic violence and its impacts. As with other aspects of corporate social responsibility, these limits will vary from organization to organization and from setting to setting. What is important is that the organization and its leaders be open to addressing the needs of domestic violence victims – for time away from work, for workplace flexibility (both temporal and physical), for protection of privacy rights, and for safety at work. Each of these needs can be realized most effectively when a workplace support network exists for affected employees to tap into, when counselling and referral points within the workplace have sound relations with relevant services outside of the workplace, and when there is a public commitment by the organization to act as a responsible member of society in combatting domestic violence.



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    New Zealand

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Copyright information

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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Business Law and Taxation, Monash Business SchoolMonash UniversityCaulfieldAustralia

Section editors and affiliations

  • Deborah C. Poff
    • 1
  1. 1.OttawaCanada