Domestic abuse is a business issue – act now

Love shouldn't hurt_word cloudNew figures recently revealed that the UK’s first lockdown led to a surge in calls to domestic violence helplines, and an estimated 50 deaths. As Covid-19 safety restrictions continue, leaving many people trapped and isolated, it’s more important than ever that businesses take proactive measures to support any employees who might be at risk.

As we reported in July, domestic abuse – including coercion, controlling behaviour and violence – is an issue that business owners need to take seriously. Not only are employers and work colleagues a vital lifeline for those living in dangerous situations, but domestic abuse also costs business an estimated £1.9bn a year in decreased productivity, time off work, lost wages and sick pay.

It’s estimated that 1 in 4 women and 1 in 6 men experience domestic abuse, so it’s highly likely that all work places will have both victims and abusers on the payroll. In a recent survey, over 50 percent of employers reported that domestic abuse led to absenteeism and caused the quality of their employees’ work to suffer. Research also shows that 75 per cent of victims will be targeted by their abuser at work. Yet, despite all this, only five per cent of businesses have specific domestic abuse policies or guidelines in place.

There are a number of measures that businesses should adopt to help support their staff:

  • Have an effective workplace policy in order to raise awareness, identify responsibilities and ensure provision, support and safety. You can get help with your organisation’s approach to domestic abuse from the Employer’s Initiative on Domestic Abuse and the Domestic Abuse Toolkit from Business in the Community.
  • Designate a senior person to take responsibility for reviewing and maintaining your workplace policy.
  • Foster a safe and supportive workplace culture where employees are able to talk openly about personal issues without fear of stigma or harassment. There’s more information about how to have difficult conversations in the Business in the Community toolkit for employers.
  • Provide training so that staff understand the complexities of the issue and who know what steps to take to support colleagues. Artemis domestic abuse online training is available to all partner organisations working in Sandwell – contact Jenny_Tarrant@sandwell.gov.uk.
  • Put up posters (on the back of toilet doors, for example) to signpost employees to local and national support agencies. Black Country Women’s Aid supports women, men and children and has a 24-hour helpline: 0121 552 6448. Sandwell Council’s domestic violence pages also list a range of sources of help.
  • Don’t stick rigidly to normal procedures. Allow individuals to take special leave, change work patterns or workload, come into the office even if others are working from home and divert phone calls and emails to avoid harassment.
  • Regularly remind staff to update their emergency contact details.

It’s important to remember that the role of a manager is not to deal with the abuse itself, but to make it clear through workplace policies and guidelines that employees will be supported and signposted to appropriate sources of help. If someone does come forward to talk about an issue, information should only be passed on to others with the prior agreement of the person who has disclosed. The exception to this is if there is an imminent threat to life, in which case an employer should call the police and follow their advice about how to proceed.

It may seem daunting for your business to try and tackle this issue now, during a global pandemic and with the end of the Brexit transition period on the horizon. However, this is when your employees need your support more than ever. Don’t wait until it’s too late.