· 2 min read · Features

Tackling the taboo of domestic abuse is all of our business


Your role is not to deal with the abuse itself but to make it clear that employees will be supported

Employers are increasingly taking a more positive approach to supporting employees on issues that were previously seen as taboo or too personal, such as mental health. Of course, there’s still a long way to go to combat the culture of silence around mental health but progress has been made. However, when it comes to domestic abuse and its impact on the workplace, we are only at the beginning of the journey.

An estimated 1.9 million adults experienced domestic abuse in the last year, according to data from the Office for National Statistics. Two women each week and one man each month are killed in England and Wales by a current or former partner. And 75% of those experiencing domestic abuse are targeted at work. The cost of domestic abuse to business is estimated at £1.9 million a year, due to decreased productivity, time off work, lost wages and sick pay.

Rather than being a ‘private matter’, employers have an important role to play in society’s response to domestic abuse. Employers owe a duty of care to employees and have a legal responsibility to provide a safe and effective work environment. Helping to prevent and reduce the impact of domestic abuse is an integral part of this.

Colleagues may be experiencing physical and/or emotional harm, and their lives may even be at risk. But they could be reluctant to tell their employer. Or colleagues may be aware abuse is taking place but not know how to help.

A report by Durham University shows that there is often a disconnect between employees who experience domestic abuse and those who have responsibility for their wellbeing and performance. The report found that:

  • While 86% of HR leads agree that employers have a duty of care to provide support to employees on the issue of domestic abuse, only 5% of organisations currently have a specific policy or guidelines in place on domestic abuse
  • In medium and large organisations there was an average of less than one disclosure over the previous 12 months, which suggests not enough employees feel comfortable and supported enough to raise the problem at work

So while employers recognise their duty of care, more needs to be done to ensure all employees affected by domestic abuse receive the support they need. To help address this, we worked with Business in the Community and Public Health England to produce a new domestic abuse toolkit for employers.

The toolkit highlights that domestic abuse takes place at all levels of society, and provides practical guidance on supporting those affected, as well as case studies from organisations and individuals. It aims to help organisations of all sizes and sectors make a commitment to respond to the risk of domestic abuse and build an approach that ensures all employees feel supported to deal with abuse. The resource highlights three key actions for employers:

  • Acknowledge:
    • Acknowledge your responsibility to address domestic abuse. An organisation’s response begins with raising awareness and breaking down the stigma. Enable colleagues to openly discuss the topic, and provide a supportive workplace
  • Respond:
    • Review your policies and processes to ensure you are providing a supportive workplace and can respond to disclosure. The more supportive atmosphere an employer can create, the more likely employees are going to feel comfortable in disclosing an issue
  • Refer:
    • Provide access and signposting to specialist organisations that can help employees affected by domestic abuse, such as Women’s Aid, Refuge or Mankind. The role of a manager is not to deal with the abuse itself but to make it clear that employees will be supported and to outline what help is available

We need employers of all shapes and sizes to break the wall of silence that currently makes it difficult for so many people to reach out for the support they need. All responsible employers must take a proactive and supportive approach to help prevent and overcome domestic abuse.

Harry Day is account director at Forster Communications