Domestic abuse: The signs for employers to look out for

Wednesday December 20, 2023

Every year, there are 2.3 million victims of domestic abuse in the UK.

It does not just take the form of violence, but also encompasses a range of controlling behaviours, verbal aggression, online abuse, harassment and stalking. About 20% of the crimes dealt with by the police are categorised as domestic abuse.

Anyone can be a victim, although about two-thirds of cases are against women and one-third men across all income levels. Cruelly, domestic abuse actually rises at Christmas, as people spend more time in the home with those close to them.

Employers looking out for their employees’ well-being will want to know how they can help with this sensitive problem. Do you know the signs to look out for? Or in what way you can be of assistance?


How employers may spot domestic abuse

There is a wide range of possible indicators of domestic abuse, some far more concrete than others.

At the more obvious end of the spectrum is a partner harassing and controlling an employee at work, constant phone calls checking up on them or a barrage of emails. Perhaps the employee is not allowed to go to the Christmas party or because of financial control cannot contribute to companywide presents.

Other potentially obvious clues (although not certain to be related) are physical signs like bruises or repeated injuries. These may be disguised by unusually heavy make-up or changes of wardrobe (at this time of the year easier to disguise), or they may need to take time off to recover from their so-called accidents.

Other signs may be more subtle, and not so easily linked to domestic abuse. For instance, changes in behaviour like becoming more introverted, anxious or even aggressive themselves; or a drop off in the quality of their work. A lot of harassment happens on the journey to and from work resulting in more frequent lateness, or having to leave the workplace at short notice.


Broaching the subject

If you do suspect domestic abuse, initiating a conversation with your employee may seem challenging, and you need to give them space to not engage if they are not ready.

Asking indirect questions to begin with, like simply querying if everything is okay; saying you noticed something doesn’t seem quite right and gently indicating that you are there to offer support if it’s needed will all help to build up trust.

Make clear that they can come to you when the time is right for them, and that you will always respect their confidence.


12 practical actions you may be able to take

When an employee is ready to engage, there is a surprising amount of practical support you can offer. Actions to consider include:

  1. Agreeing with the employee if and how any information should be shared with colleagues – say if staff need to know how to respond if the partner tries to contact the victim at work.
  2. Looking at work patterns and seeing if accommodations could be made to make the situation easier. Examples include changing shifts, location or workload and allowing time for medical or other appointments relating to their children.
  3. Allowing them a private space to make phone calls to aid agencies.
  4. Diverting emails and telephone calls if the abuser uses these channels.
  5. Forewarning reception, should the abuser try to gain access to the site.
  6. Discussing with the employee if they would like their salary paid into a new independent bank account.
  7. Making sure you have an up-to-date emergency contact number for a trusted friend or relative.
  8. Taking them off any front line duties where an abuser could gain immediate unchallenged access to them.
  9. Recording any episode of abuse that takes place at work, including telephone calls and emails. It could be important evidence in the future.
  10. If they are a remote worker, ensuring a colleague has regular contact with them, and if possible give them the choice to attend the workplace instead. Ensure they know how to indicate there is a problem (the hand sign).
  11. Making sure they are safe leaving the office and have someone with them to go to the car park or escort them to the bus.
  12. If you suspect there is an immediate threat to their life, call the police at once.


Further support and the Working it Out pledge

There is a pledge you can take as an employer called the Working it Out Pledge. This pledge help employers demonstrate their commitment to tackling domestic abuse. You can sign up to it here.

Some employers have a domestic abuse policy which raises awareness of the support you can provide. It may also serve as a layer of deterrence should you have a perpetrator among your workforce.

You can also signpost charities that support women and men who are suffering domestic abuse – for example Refuge for women, and Mankind for men.

If you would like more help in dealing with this sensitive issue, especially if a case arises after Christmas, or in drafting a domestic abuse policy, please contact your local HR Dept office.

Preventing People Problems

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