Supporting victims of domestic abuse in the workplace

The government had recently announced new laws to more closely monitor and prosecute domestic abusers, to ensure they don’t “fall through the cracks.” For the first time, the police will be required to treat violence against women with the same seriousness as terrorism, organised crime and child abuse. The most dangerous abusers, including those who have been sentenced to a year or more in prison for controlling and coercive behaviour, will be recorded on the violent and sex offender register. Some may also be required to wear an electronic tag and subject to a raft of mandatory measures as punishment.

Employers may think domestic abuse is not a workplace issue, however this could not be further from the truth. In the UK, more than 1/5 victims of domestic abuse take time off work and 2% lose their jobs as a direct result of the abuse per year. 75% of those enduring domestic abuse are targeted at work; this can range from harassing phone calls to the abuser arriving unannounced at the workplace. 40% of victims are prevented from getting to work by their abuser, most commonly through physical violence or restraint (72%) followed by threats (68%).

Domestic abuse can hugely impact an employee’s attendance, ability to arrive on time, focus, motivation and productivity. Where the underlying cause isn’t known, this may lead to disciplinary action and dismissal, which contributes towards high staff turnover and increased recruitment/training costs. As such, it's important for organisations to realise the impact domestic abuse has on victims in the workplace and for employers to pro-actively implement measures to help and support them.

In the workplace, there are certain behaviours and patterns employers can look out for, this includes: unexplained injuries or bruises; noticeable weight gain or weight loss; and employees being increasingly anxious and withdrawn. This may be displayed when speaking with colleagues and customers or lack of confidence in their performance or output.

The employee may also have increased sick leave, be missing deadlines, be unwilling to discuss their home life or family plans and is often very early or late for work. There might be reasonable and non-concerning grounds for such behaviours, but where patterns form, it’s best to check-in with the individual, to make sure there is nothing untoward going on.

There are a number of ways employers can support victims of domestic abuse. Arguably, the best way to do so is to create an environment which encourages and enables staff to speak out if they have any concerns, both professionally and personally. A domestic abuse policy can identify the dedicated individuals who are available to talk to, such as named ambassadors, mental health first aiders, or line managers.

Providing training to these managers on how to hold effective and empathetic conversations is key. From there, employers can consider what reasonable adjustment would provide the most benefit to them. This might include flexible working arrangements, amended absence reporting procedures, a tailored safety plan, workload adjustments and paid leave.

Ultimately, it’s imperative for all discussions to be approached with sensitivity and care, so the employee knows that supporting them is the main priority and they will not be judged or placed at a detriment for raising concerns.

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