Not ‘should’, but ‘would’, as the over 665 companies that are members of the Employer’s Initiative for Domestic Abuse (EIDA) organization signify. It is an odd thing to consider when there’s a commonly held belief that a person’s private life and their public life are to be separate things and a company they work for has no right to interfere in what they do outside of their work hours.
This has become particularly relevant through the Covid-19 pandemic as many workers were forced to isolate or start working from home. The negative aspects of being laid off or working from home for extended periods include stress, loneliness, anxiety, lack of exercise, a reduced ability to separate work needs from home life, reduced emotional stability, fears of financial insolvency, and being forced to interact with people you may not agree with.
These trigger points make perpetrators more likely to lash out – January 2020 saw a spike up to 2.4 million cases over the previous year. Pandemic regulations also made it more difficult for victims to get away from their abusers.
This has reached such a point that even third party firms like Boots, Superdrug and Morrisons pharmacies have set up ‘safe spaces’ for victims to discreetly find help when they come in while getting daily supplies and medications. The firm Linklaters created a new support package and policy for its employees that provides emergency accommodation and up to 10 days paid leave.
Do companies have a duty to recognize domestic abuse?
According to Business Minister Paul Cully: possibly. Common law implies that all employees have a general duty of care to the health and safety of their employees.
It is said that “Compliance with health and safety legislation should be proactive, rather than reactive. It includes supporting employees’ physical and mental health – and domestic abuse at home is part of this.”
Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations (1999) state that employers have a duty to conduct ‘suitable and sufficient’ risk assessments to identify hazards and degree of risk in the workplace – which in pandemic situations now include working at home situations.
This does not mean a mandate to start interfering, but extends to looking for signs of domestic abuse in staff and subtly allowing them a way out. Sometimes all that is needed is for someone there to listen without judging. If an employer cannot help directly, then the next best thing would be referring them to domestic abuse charities and organizations who know what to do.
Why should companies care about domestic abuse?
Whatever impacts the physical and mental health of employees impacts the employer.
- According to UK Home Office research, domestic abuse costs the UK £14 billion in lost economic output each year and of this an estimated £1.9 billion is absorbed by employers due to decreased productivity, time off work, lost wages and sick pay.
– (S.Walby, The Cost of Domestic Violence, 2009).
- Economic abuse is one of the most prevalent forms of domestic abuse and includes interfering with the victim’s employment.
- (Women’s Aid (2019) The Domestic Abuse Report 2019)
Domestic Abuse does not necessarily need to involve violence. It is a pattern of:
- controlling behaviour – a range of acts to make a person subordinate or dependent on the abuser by isolating and depriving them of means of independence and support,
- coercive behaviour – the threat of assaults, humiliation, harm, intimidation or other abuse to frighten a person into compliance.
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Apart from physical and emotional abuse, many perpetrators intentionally sabotage their victim’s employment and career prospects.. Abusers often seek to control their victim’s financial security, working hours, or ability to participate in work-related activities, such as away days and social events. All this under the agenda of making their victims depend only upon their dominance, and resent any other avenues that would bring them out of their control.
Often abuse extends into work hours, with employers reporting that harassment of a victim’s partner or ex partner occuring while inside the workplace.
Responses showed that this can happen to anyone at any level or role within an organization, from staff to managers and even CEOS. This can affect persons in any gender, background, economic status, age, or ethnicity. About 2 in 5 of all victims of domestic abuse are men.
Many have reported that victims may have worked in the same place or for the same employer as the perpetrator, which imposes additional care for management to secure the safety of the victim and proper action against the perpetrator.
Employers cannot be so cavalier about resolving domestic abuse situations on their own because abuse does not end upon removal of the victim from their perpetrator’s presence. The time around separation is the most dangerous time for the victim – with 55% of the women killed by their ex-partner being killed within the first month of separation and 87% in the first year.
Barriers that prevent victims from finding support in the workplace
The workplace has traditionally not been a place to find support for victims of domestic abuse, and here are some reasons why:
- There is limited support available; or policies are not clearly visible, signposted, communicated, or up to date.
- A lack of recognition of diversity among victims, and how a person may have multiple characteristics that make it more challenging to come forward.
- Lack of signposting that can direct them to specialist services that support victims of black, Asian and ethnic minority background, migrants, LGBT people, disabled people, and men.
- Stereotypes about domestic abuse can make it more difficult for individuals to identify that they are victims and what is happening to them is domestic abuse.
- The employment relationship and migration status of a victim can be a barrier to disclosure of abuse and asking for help. Victims may be employed by their abusers or work closely with them in family business.
- Victims in low paid or insecure work amplify issues with feeling confident to speak up about abuse and asking for help.
Recommendations from the Domestic Abuse Toolkit
Co-produced by Public Health England (PHE) and Business in the Community (BITC) and supported by the Employer’s Initiative on Domestic Abuse (EIDA), the Domestic Abuse: A Toolkit for Employers has been updated for 2021 with information about the recently passed Domestic Abuse Act, guides and case studies, and updated links to resources and initiatives.
The free toolkit aims to help organizations support employees and provides guidelines and access to free resources and supporting organizations and charities that will help them set up a domestic abuse policy.
According to the toolkit, this framework is commonly used by employers to manage a clear response to domestic abuse:
Use the information in this toolkit to help recognise the problem, and to enable managers and employees to understand that domestic abuse is a workplace issue that everyone can play a part in tackling.
Implement policies and processes that enable a supportive workplace which will respond appropriately to disclosure.
Provide access to internal confidential support and signpost appropriately to external organisations who can help employees that disclose abuse.
If an employee discloses abuse, it is important to record the details of what is said as accurately as possible. Should the abuse become subject to criminal proceedings, this is an exhibit and should be given to the police.
You may download the Domestic Abuse: A Toolkit for Employers here or from the link below.