What is an employer’s role in supporting an employee at risk of domestic abuse?

Wednesday September 2, 2020

Protection from the threat of coronavirus has been a major concern shared the world over this year. It has resulted in enforced periods of lockdown and a considerable shift towards home working which remains in place for many people.

The government’s instruction to stay safe by staying home, along with restrictions on movement, has been pivotal in reducing the transmission of coronavirus. But tragically, home is not a safe place for everyone. The enforced lockdown may have escalated the risk of another silent killer.

Domestic abuse helplines have reported a surge in calls from people seeking support during lockdown.

The Metropolitan Police describes domestic abuse as any incident (or pattern of incidents) of controlling, coercive or threatening behaviour; violence; or abuse, between those aged 16 or over who are, or have been, intimate partners or family members – regardless of gender or sexuality.

Domestic abuse poses a very real and dangerous threat to millions of people each year. It ruins lives and an urgent concerted effort is required to eradicate it from society.

Why is domestic abuse a concern for employers?

Historically, the personal affairs of employees have been just that: personal. There’s a stigma around bringing problems in to work. But when trouble at home threatens an employee’s health, well-being and ability to work, employers have a duty of care to show their support.

The extreme circumstances of coronavirus have placed more attention on the personal lives of employees, with remote work practices providing a window into once private households.

Home should provide sanctuary, but as the rise in cries for help suggest, there are many people suffering in their homelife at the hands of their abuser. At a time when once reliable support may be limited or inaccessible due to a lockdown, an employer can provide a lifeline. You need to know how to spot the signs of abuse though, and the steps to take in order to help.

How can you help domestic abuse survivors in the workplace?

An employee experiencing domestic abuse is not always obvious. So learning the signs and symptoms to look out for can be critical in saving someone’s life.

These include but are not limited to:
• Unexplained absences.
• Bruising laughed off as a silly mistake e.g. walking into a door frame.
• Changes in behaviour, such as becoming more introverted.

Remember that abuse does not discriminate so these signs can appear for both men and women.

If you suspect that a member of your team is at risk from domestic abuse, you should approach with caution. Discretion is highly advisable, so as not to aggravate an already difficult situation and sometimes posing challenges to the employee’s personal safety.

Start by having an open door policy so that employees know they can talk to you if they are in trouble. But remember that the burden of shame can prevent a person from reaching out. So implementing and signposting an Employee Assistance Programme (EAP) can give employees access to professional and discreet counselling.

Additionally, charities such as Safe Lives, Refuge and Men’s Advice Line can provide expert advice on how to support those in need.

Further to this, you can introduce a company policy on how you handle the subject and the confidential support you are able to provide. We can help you to compose and communicate such a policy.

Can more be done to support survivors of domestic abuse in the workplace?

The increase in calls for support during this time suggest that much more needs to be done to stop domestic abuse once and for all.

The HR Dept has submitted a review to the government’s call for evidence on the matter in the hope that more support will become available to employers seeking to help those at risk.

New Zealand has passed legislation on paid leave for victims of domestic abuse. Companies worldwide are showing their support, including a local council in Scotland. This is only the beginning and there is still a long road ahead.

If you or someone you know is at risk from domestic abuse, please contact the charities linked above or 999 if in immediate danger. If you would like to discuss how you can raise awareness of domestic abuse support in your business, please contact us.

Preventing People Problems

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