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Employers must tackle "neglected" issue of domestic abuse

Business in the Community (BITC) and Public Health England have launched a toolkit to help employers recognise the often-overlooked signs of domestic abuse

It is estimated that as many as one in four women and one in six men will experience domestic abuse in their lifetime. However, many employers are unaware of how to support those affected, wellbeing director at BITC Louise Aston told HR magazine.

Domestic abuse is one of the most neglected and taboo topics around. I think we’re at the same place with it we were with mental health 20 years ago,” she said.

Aston said that employers are in a unique position to help those going through domestic abuse. But she added that while HR professionals want to tackle the issue many do not have guidelines in place.

“There’s a clear gap between employers wanting to take action on domestic violence and actually doing something about it. Part of the problem is that there are so many misconceptions about domestic abuse. It can take lots of different forms; it can be physical, emotional, sexual, or economic.

“Even with physical abuse you won’t necessarily see someone with a black eye. A lot of abusers will hurt someone where they know it won’t be visible. There needs to be far more education across the workforce.”

The new toolkit, developed alongside the Employers Initiative on Domestic Abuse, has been designed to help employers spot the signs of abuse. These include frequent absence or lateness, reduced quality of work, and changes in the way an employee communicates.

Aston added that employers should focus on building a supportive working environment. “We don’t see domestic abuse as a standalone issue; it crosses over easily with mental and physical health problems. It’s about looking at the whole problem," she said.

"We’d encourage employers to approach a conversation about domestic abuse through respecting someone’s boundaries, noticing whether they’re behaving differently, and asking open probing questions. It’s also worth recognising that there may be very different symptoms of domestic abuse depending on the individual.”

Aston went on to recommend key steps in tackling abuse. These include: acknowledging the issue, responding through reviewing policies and encouraging disclosure, and referring employees to organisations that can help.

“Let’s build on the good work employers are already doing with mental health in the workplace," she urged. "We’re starting to realise that just because an issue takes place outside of work it doesn’t mean it’s not our responsibility to help.”