Insights and Analysis

How is Domestic Violence Impacting the Workplace in China?

March 15, 2017

By Chen Tingting

Four years ago, Ms. Huang, a clerk at a local township government in China, was at work when her newly wedded husband showed up in rage. “He stormed into my workplace, kicked open one door and another searching for me. He even followed my co-worker’s car.” Her supervisor sent the office car to escort her from work, and arranged for her to stay at a co-worker’s home. While Ms. Huang had been suffering from abuse since their honeymoon, this harassment at work had become more frequent after she told him she wanted a divorce. Thankfully, she said, her supervisor and co-workers were supportive, and allowed her to have flexible working hours so that she could go to the court to attend divorce proceedings.

An engineer and victim of domestic violence for over 30 years, Ms. Gao was less fortunate. Despite her husband’s constant physical assaults and public humiliation against her, her supervisors and co-workers still believed that she should keep her marriage together.

China’s first Anti-Domestic Violence Law that passed last year includes provisions that require employers to act against domestic violence through measures such as disciplining abusers among their employees and providing assistance to victims. Around 68 percent of China’s working-age population are employed, 44 percent of whom are women, according to the latest International Labour Organization figures.

Around 68 percent of China’s working-age population are employed, 44 percent of whom are women. As the mobility rate of working people increases, their connection to community, where they would traditionally access anti-domestic violence information and services, is weakening. Photo/Flickr user Lawrence Wang

However, as the mobility rate of working people increases, their connection to community, where they would traditionally access anti-domestic violence information and services, is weakening. In contrast, the workplace is becoming the place where a working individual spends most of the day, and co-workers comprise a critical part of one’s social circle. Therefore, these new requirements have enormous potential to benefit the large working population in China.

The Asia Foundation and SynTao Co., Ltd. (a leading consulting firm on corporate social responsibility) conducted a research project last year to understand how domestic violence spreads beyond the household and into the workforce in China. The findings, which come from online and in-person questionnaire surveys with 709 working individuals—nearly 80 percent of whom were women—and 93 human resource managers from across sectors and geographic regions, reveal for the first time how domestic violence impacts both working victims and their co-workers, and how much domestic violence costs employers in China.

Among all working individuals surveyed, 13.29 percent reported experiencing domestic violence in various forms in the past 12 months. Over 50 percent of survivors continued to experience abuse at work by their partners, and 20 percent reported that the abusers also harassed, threatened, or even assaulted their co-workers. Nearly half of self-identified survivors in the survey never revealed their experience of abuse to any co-worker or supervisor, mainly due to concerns about privacy and discrimination. As a result, only 10 percent of human resource managers surveyed were aware of their employees experiencing domestic violence, and even fewer realized there were abusers among their staff.

Nearly 45 percent of respondents who had experienced domestic violence reported missing working hours or work days due to domestic violence. On average, each survivor missed seven work days in the past 12 months. More than 23 percent reported that they once changed or quit jobs as a result of domestic violence. Also, 75 percent reported that domestic violence negatively impacted their career advancement, a finding that is supported by Ms. Gao’s testimonial. More than once in her career, she had to give up opportunities of professional training and even promotion because of her husband’s interference.

The cost of domestic violence to employers can be estimated by calculating the loss of productivity during working hours, missing work days, and additional human resource management expenses generated by replacing survivors who resign, which altogether result in an increase in an employer’s annual manpower costs. This cost could be minimized by awareness-raising and survivor assistance programs in the workplace to help prevent domestic violence from happening, and enable survivors to leave abusive relationships sooner. Ninety-two percent of all respondents also said that appropriate survivor assistance programs in the workplace would increase their recognition and sense of belonging to their employers.

We hope that this research, combined with the new measures in the Anti-Domestic Violence Law, can support and encourage employers to take action against domestic violence. It is important for employers to realize that domestic violence is costing their business operation, whether they know it or not, and more importantly, that there are actions to take that matter as much to their employees as to their business interests.

Editor’s note: Real names of the two survivors are not revealed for privacy and confidentiality concerns.

Chen Tingting is The Asia Foundation’s program officer for women’s empowerment in China. The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author and not those of The Asia Foundation or its funder.

Related locations: China
Related programs: Inclusive Economic Growth, Women's Empowerment and Gender Equality
Related topics: Domestic Violence


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