By Sharon Pegg, Director Northern Powerhouse Consulting

Why Employers Need to Make Domestic Violence Their Business

One of the unexpected side effects of COVID-19 was an increase in incidences of domestic violence. The effects of the lockdown, along with increased alcohol intake, and many different stressors meant that domestic violence rates increased, against a backdrop of the usual support services or escape routes not being as readily available to victims.

Most of us think of domestic violence as something that happens behind closed doors, but employers, as your employees return to work, it’s something you can’t remain ignorant of. Domestic violence can affect the workplace both directly, and indirectly.

One in four women and one in six men suffer from domestic abuse in their lifetime and aside from the terrible human cost, domestic abuse costs businesses £1.9 billion each year because of lost productivity, absence from work, and sick pay.

So it makes business sense for employers to take the lead on starting the conversation around domestic violence. Let’s not forget either that they have a duty of care to look after the health and wellbeing of their employees and creating a supportive culture helps make that possible.

Why employers have been shy to act on domestic violence

• With some employers, there can be a sense of discomfort about getting involved in employees’ personal lives.
• There can also be a denial that domestic violence is happening to anyone in their organisation. But just because you don’t see something, it doesn’t mean it’s not happening.
• Managers may feel out of their depth and not know how to deal with such a sensitive issue.

What should employers do?

There are steps that employers can take to address domestic violence sensitively and effectively.
Develop a domestic violence policy
Sometimes, domestic violence doesn’t stay at home, it can enter the workplace, whether it’s affecting an employee’s performance or behaviour, or the perpetrator actually begins harassing the victim at work.

The policy should include guidance on:

• Any security concerns (if a perpetrator attempts to enter the victim’s place of work, for example).
• Employee conduct or performance issues which result from domestic abuse.
• How to approach an employee you suspect is a victim of domestic violence.
• Actions the employer will take to support employees

Provide training at all levels of the organisation

Training on domestic violence should be given which covers:

• The signs that someone may be a victim of domestic abuse.
• The impact of domestic violence on the workplace.
• How to support victims and enable them to get the help they need.
• The need for sensitivity and also respecting privacy and confidentiality.

This will help raise awareness of the issue and make domestic violence less of a taboo, so people are more likely to speak up.
Raise awareness across the organisation

As well as offering dedicated training on domestic violence, employers can make domestic violence information available in employee handbooks, newsletters, posters, or via the staff intranet. It can also be incorporated into employee wellbeing initiatives and policies.

Know what to do if an employee discloses that they are a victim of domestic violence?

Whether you’re in HR or you’re the employee’s line manager, here’s what you should do if an employee tells you they are the victim of domestic abuse.

• Show concern for their safety and ask what you can do to make them feel safer at work.
• Be sure to listen and let them open up as little or as much as they feel able to. Don’t be tempted to make judgements on what they tell you; it’s not your job to tell them what to do. Just let them know that you want to help.
• Offer to refer them to an employee counselling service, or signpost them to a local domestic violence support service.
• Work with workplace safety and security staff and also possibly the police to draw up a risk assessment. This should contain details of what steps are being taken to keep the employee safe at work, such as walking them to and from their car, screening calls, and anything else that’s relevant.

Extra help for employers

Business in the Community and Public Health England have put together a domestic abuse toolkit designed to help raise awareness of domestic violence in organisations and provide guidance on how to help employees who are victims of abuse.

The toolkit asks employers to take 3 key actions:

  1. Acknowledge that they have a responsibility to address domestic violence in the workplace and create a supportive workplace culture where it can be spoken about.
  2. Review policies to make sure that they have adequate support in place and know how to respond if an employee discloses they are a victim of domestic violence.
  3. Refer employees to appropriate support.

Employers; whether you see domestic violence in your organisation or not, it’s happening in the lives of your employees. You owe it to them, and to the business to act. Be safe, not sorry.

How we can support

Northern Powerhouse Consulting have specific sessions to allow colleagues a real understanding on what domestic violence is, how you can support, the impact on mental health, how this affects children and cultural aspects of domestic violence. Raising awareness will help us to spot signs and behaviours.