HR warned to look out for signs of domestic violence during remote working

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HR leaders have been warned that remote working may see a rise in domestic abuse cases after calls to the National Domestic Abuse helpline saw a 25% increase since the lockdown began.

According to the charity Refuge which runs the helpline, it received hundreds more calls last week compared to two weeks earlier.

The charity is one of a number of organisations including Women’s Aid and Respect which has signed a letter to government asking it to develop an “urgent strategy to protect women and girls and to prevent abuse during the COVID-19 pandemic.”

With a large majority of office-based employees switching to remote working, chair of the Employer’s Initiative on Domestic Abuse (EIDA) Elizabeth Filkin said there is a ‘real concern’ that domestic abuse cases will increase.

“We’ve seen increases in reported calls to us and other national providers," she said. "HR needs to offer support for people for whom home is not a safe space and many of whom feel safer in work where they get support from colleagues and phone helplines to speak to legal services which they can’t do at home.”

The EIDA has plenty of online resources for HR to look at, including a toolkit filled with information on what to do if you suspect an employee is at risk of domestic abuse while at home.

Filkin added: “We have already seen one homicide death in London this week and the experience of other countries ahead of the curve is there’s an increase in homicide deaths as a result of isolation measures- it’s a real concern that many more will happen in this country.”

“We all need to do more to spot the signs – and it is our belief that line managers and business leaders can help lead this charge. Managers will need to learn how to become comfortable in asking the question ‘are you feeling safe?’

“They should look at the home set up, take notice if that employee always wants to turn their video off during a call, spot for increased anxiety, tiredness and of course follow up with their colleague if they haven’t replied to an email or message for a while.”

Jane Muston, BABCP accredited Practitioner, Supervisor and Trainer RN Mental Health and Clinical Director at Vita Health Group said HR should be prepared to ask some difficult questions.

“We all need to do more to spot the signs – and it is our belief that line managers and business leaders can help lead this charge. Managers will need to learn how to become comfortable in asking the question ‘are you feeling safe?’

“They should look at the home set up, take notice if that employee always wants to turn their video off during a call, spot for increased anxiety, tiredness and of course follow up with their colleague if they haven’t replied to an email or message for a while.”

One in four women and one in six men will experience domestic abuse in their lifetime, according to Everyone’s Business.

To combat this EY has worked with domestic abuse charity Hestia to give employees access to an independent domestic violence advocate.

Justine Campbell, managing partner for talent at EY, said: “The IDVA will give direct support to an individual experiencing domestic abuse, providing confidential, practical, and impartial advice on issues relating to domestic abuse, child matters, safety, housing, legal options and financial support. They will also guide individuals towards support options available.

“The IDVA will be the point of contact should an individual need information on the Criminal Justice System; whether it’s regarding reporting incidents to the police, attending Court to give evidence as a witness, or obtaining Court Orders.”

Hestia has also launched the Bright Sky app which helps individuals find and contact their nearest support service and provide information to anyone involved in abuse or who are concerned about someone they know.

After lobbying from the EIDA and other organisations, the government will put posters up in supermarkets for potential abuse victims as this could be the only time those at risk are allowed out.

Hertfordshire County Council is considering new measures to help those working remotely.

Detective Chief Inspector Ben Wright, head of Hertfordshire Constabulary’s Domestic Abuse Investigation and Safeguarding Unit, said: "During the lockdown, regular and structured communication between staff and managers will become more pivotal in providing victims with opportunities to seek help.

"Among the measures we are considering is the use of payslips to get messages to our employees. We are working to ensure all our employees are aware that domestic abuse remains a key priority across Hertfordshire.

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