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Domestic abuse: what are your responsibilities as an employer?

According to The Office for National Statistics (ONS), the number of domestic abuse related crimes registered with the police in England and Wales rose by 6% to a staggering 845,734 in the last year (March 2021–2022).

The number of callers to domestic abuse helplines also rose to 50,791. Insights to these calls show it is mainly females (86%), aged 31-39 (31%) and from a white ethnicity background (61%) who use the helpline.

Domestic violence and the workplace:

HR warned to look out for signs of domestic violence

Domestic violence and the workplace

Supporting employees suffering domestic abuse

However, it is important to note that these statistics do not reflect those affected by domestic abuse as a whole, but only those who can and have reported it to the police or used the helpline services.

What is domestic abuse?

Domestic abuse is characterised in the Domestic Abuse Act 2021 with behaviours such as:

  • Physical or sexual abuse;
  • Violent or threatening behaviour;
  • Controlling or coercive behaviour;
  • Economic abuse; or
  • Psychological, emotional or other abuse.
  • The ONS data shows in the year ending March 2022, 82.3% of callers experienced psychological or emotional abuse, 74.4% experienced controlling behaviour and 56.4% experienced threatening or intimidating behaviour.

These stark statistics show that, inevitably, employers will be in situations where members of staff have experienced domestic abuse.

Therefore, it is essential that employers, HR teams and line managers can step in and support when needed.

What should employers look out for?

The impact of domestic abuse on an employee at work is significant. Employers may notice the following:

  • Unexplained injuries;
  • Withdrawing from interacting with colleagues at work;
  • Not attending work functions or events;
  • Increase in absences;
  • Changes in their demeanour and behaviour;
  • Becoming obsessed with timekeeping;
  • Not sharing or talking about their home life;
  • Increase in tiredness and fatigue at work;
  • Their partner hanging or stalking the employee around the workplace; or
  • Poor performance.

Why is domestic abuse an important issue for employers?

Employers have a reasonable duty of care for the health, safety and wellbeing of their employees. Staff suffering from domestic abuse at home falls squarely within this.

While domestic abuse directly affects the health and wellbeing of the employee experiencing the abuse, it can have knock-on consequences for their colleagues and the wider business too.

The potential impacts vary on the nature of the role however, could include the running of fundamental business operations and increased pressure on other members of the team.

Persistent high levels of absenteeism can lower the team’s morale and cause staff retention issues, which can lead to high staff turnover and an increase in recruitment costs.

In some workforces, absenteeism can affect an employee’s salary, how much income the company is able to generate and ultimately negatively affect the business’ finances

What can employers do?

  1. Have a clear policy on how your company should support employees suffering from domestic abuse.
  2. Provide relevant training for HR teams and line managers, so they can better recognise the signs that an employee may be experiencing domestic abuse.
  3. Provide a safe place for employees to feel comfortable to disclose their experiences.
  4. Have up to date information on where to signpost or refer employees to organisations that can help them, such as: Women’s Aid; Mankind (domestic abuse support for male victims); their GP; counselling services; the police; solicitors; housing support; and domestic abuse charities and helplines.
  5. Consider practical safety issues for the employee whilst at work, from special security measures to screening the employee’s phone calls and IT systems to prevent the perpetrator using these forms of communication to abuse the employee in the workplace.
  6. Remain flexible to alter the employees’ start time and finishing time and assess their workload, so that they do not feel overburdened during times of heightened emotional fragility. Additionally, provide reasonable adjustments to allow the employee to have time off to attend appointments with support organisations, their GP, solicitors or the Police.
  7. Encourage open discussions around domestic abuse issues.
  8. Be sensitive in your approach and allocate time and space to listen to what the employee is saying.
  9. Ensure the discussions that take place are kept confidential.

How can you support employees who work from home?

Employers have a statutory duty to take reasonable care of the health and safety of their employees, whether working from the workplace or from home.

Employees working from home can make it harder for employers to identify domestic abuse.

Therefore, it is more important than ever for employers and their staff to receive sufficient training on how to stay alert to less obvious signals.

Your domestic abuse policy should apply to all employees, regardless of their place of work and emphasise that as their employers, you are there to care and support them whilst they are working from home.

Domestic abuse is a crime; it affects thousands of people in the UK each year. Employers are in a good position to provide support, care and help to employees who are victims of domestic abuse.

By providing effective policies, guidance and information, you can help your employees feel confident that they can seek further help and feel confident in your provision as an employer.

By Susan J Williams, partner and head of family (Cardiff), Ince