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How can I support an employee experiencing domestic abuse?

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Covid-19 has had many serious consequences on our health, economy and personal relationships,  and unfortunately the resulting lockdowns arising from the pandemic have led to an increase in reports of domestic abuse.  Working from home arrangements and stay at home orders have kept some individuals confined with their abuser. In fact Refuge, the UK’s largest domestic abuse charity, reported a 700% increase in online traffic to its helpline website after the first national lockdown in the spring of 2020. Our Employment Law team discusses here how employers can help their employees who are suffering from domestic abuse, and why they should offer this support.

Is domestic abuse an employer’s concern?

Domestic abuse can take many forms including physical, verbal, psychological, sexual, and economic. While many employers undoubtedly care about domestic abuse for humanitarian reasons, and will naturally feel compelled to ensure their employees are safe and well, there are business reasons to offer support to your employees.  A Business in the Community (BITC) report found that 54% of employers stated that domestic abuse understandably caused an employee’s quality of work to suffer and 56% of employers said it led to absenteeism.  The report also found that the overall cost of domestic abuse to businesses was £1.9 billion a year “due to decreased productivity, time off work, lost wages, and sick pay.”

Employers also have a duty of care towards their employees, which includes taking all reasonable steps to provide a safe working environment and remove risks to employees’ health.

Awareness and training regarding domestic abuse

In 2020 the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) undertook a review of the support available to employees who are victims of domestic abuse.  It found that awareness and understanding of domestic abuse were essential to formulating an effective employer response.  You can increase awareness in your workplace and break down the stigma some individuals feel by providing tailored training to employees and managers on topics such as:

  • The different forms of domestic abuse;
  • Signs that an employee or colleague may be experiencing domestic abuse;
  • What to do if an employee or colleague discloses that they are experiencing domestic abuse;
  • The resources available to employees and where they can go for help.

The BEIS report also recommends all employers implement a domestic abuse policy. The policy should affirm your commitment to supporting employees who are victims of domestic abuse and state that abusive behaviour will not be tolerated in or out of the workplace.  The policy should include details of the forms of support that you as their employer can provide as well as references to national and local support services.

Appropriate training and a robust domestic abuse policy can help create a supportive atmosphere where employees feel comfortable coming forward.

Practical support for your employees experiencing domestic abuse

If an employee discloses to you that they are experiencing domestic abuse there is a range of practical support options you can offer them, including:

  • Flexible working arrangements or special leave so they can for example speak to a solicitor, attend court, view a flat etc.
  • Access to counselling or other health services;
  • Paying their wages into a separate bank account.

If the employee is not working from home you could also implement additional security measures to ensure their safety in the workplace, such as:

  • Alerting security and receptionists if the abuser is known to come to the workplace;
  • Moving the employee to a role where they do not need to answer the phone and are not in the public view;
  • Accompanying the employee to their car or public transport.

Whatever support you offer, it is important that you first consult with the affected employee and seek their agreement as to the specific form of support they feel they need.

Domestic abuse is a serious issue to which there is no easy solution.  However, employers can make a difference by reminding employees that they are not alone and by offering them compassion and support.  There are many resources for employers who would like to learn more about what they can do to help end domestic abuse, such as through CIPD and Employer’s Initiative on Domestic Abuse.  If you have any questions regarding supporting an employee through this experience, you can contact our Employment Law team on 023 8071 7717 or email  Our Family Law team are also available to discuss their options regarding legal steps that can be taken.

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This is for information purposes only and is no substitute for, and should not be interpreted as, legal advice.  All content was correct at the time of publishing and we cannot be held responsible for any changes that may invalidate this article.