Employers reminded of duty to support those affected by domestic abuse

Spearheaded by the Shadow Minister for domestic violence and safeguarding, amendments are being made to the Domestic Abuse Bill as it moves through Parliament, to ensure that domestic abuse protection orders apply to the workplace. These new protection orders are a preventive tool to keep affected people safe, giving them some respite as well as referral to support services without interference from the perpetrator.

Following the publication of the Government’s final report from its Review into Workplace Support for Victims of Domestic Abuse, Business Minister Paul Scully has written an open letter to employers, offering guidance on how they can support affected employees.

In his letter, available on the Government website¸ Mr. Scully emphasises that employers are not being asked to become specialists in handling domestic abuse, nor for colleagues to take on the role of healthcare workers or counsellors. However, he notes, colleagues and managers can often be the only people outside the home that those going through domestic abuse talk to each day and are therefore uniquely placed to help spot signs of abuse.

Signs could include, but are not limited to, an individual becoming more withdrawn than usual, sudden drops in performance, or mention of controlling behaviours in their partner. Few employers are aware that these can be signs of domestic abuse and an even smaller number have a clear policy in place to support affected employees.

Supporting affected employees may include raising awareness. This could be through simply listening to concerns, helping employees to access support, or referring the issue to the right contacts within the organisation. Mr. Scully goes on to encourage employers to take simple yet practical steps to raising awareness by promoting or downloading the “Bright Sky App” which provides a service directory for people going through domestic violence.

Further, senior leaders within the organisation should look to foster an environment where all staff feel comfortable “being themselves” and talking openly, allowing affected employees to feel able to open up. This will in turn give rise to the opportunity for employers to ask what help the individual needs. For example, they may need time, space, and privacy to make calls and arrangements; they may need their salaries paid into a dedicated bank account; and/or they may need flexibility around working hours and patterns. The best way to find out what would help them most is to ask and be receptive to their replies.

Paul Scully’s plan, as is evident from his letter, is to encourage a lot more employers to create, review, and put in place policies on domestic abuse. The employers who are already taking a hands-on approach to tackle this issue will most likely be encouraged to continue; and others who have not been able to pay close attention to this issue, due to the impact of the pandemic, may now be prompted into action both for the sake of their employees and their business as a whole. 

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