Business management

Employer guidance: how to support staff suffering domestic abuse

Domestic abuse has been on the rise in the UK. If you think an employee or colleague is at risk, help is at hand. 

Domestic violence charity Refuge reported that, between March 2020 and February 2021, there was a 60% increase in the average number of calls and messages to its National Domestic Abuse Helpline. Meanwhile, the government estimates there are now 2.3 million victims of domestic abuse each year, two thirds of whom are women.

The Domestic Abuse Act, which became law in April 2021, includes workplace protection for domestic abuse victims who may see their place of work as somewhere to seek help and support.

Natalie Nelson, Technical Advice Lead at NatWest Mentor, says: “Domestic abuse is something businesses need to take seriously. In 2014, the TUC said that as many as one in five employees need to take time off work due to domestic violence, and during the pandemic, that number will have increased. The government estimates that employee absences, and the associated loss of productivity, cost the UK economy around £14bn per year.”

Natalie adds that a key provision of the act includes the issuing of domestic abuse protection orders that will prevent abusive partners from coming to victims’ workplaces.

“The impact of domestic abuse can have serious and long-term effects on an employee’s physical and mental health,” she says. “Fortunately, the government recognises that businesses can play a crucial role in protecting victims.”

Actions for employers

In an open letter to UK employers, Paul Scully, Minister for Small Business, highlighted the actions business owners can take to protect vulnerable staff, including:

  1. Raising awareness of domestic abuse and ensuring staff can spot the signs, such as an employee becoming withdrawn, changing their appearance or a sudden drop in their productivity.

  2. Taking simple, practical steps, such as creating a safe space for employees to talk, ensuring the workplace is safe and secure, and promoting the use of the Bright Sky app, which provides information for anyone who may be in an abusive relationship or is concerned about someone they know.

  3. Asking employees what support you can offer them, perhaps allowing them time off to seek help or paying their wages into a different account.

The impact of domestic abuse can have serious and long-term effects on an employee’s physical and mental health

Natalie Nelson
Technical Advice Lead, NatWest Mentor

The open letter follows a government review into workplace support for victims, which proposes making flexible working “the default unless employers have good reasons not to”.

“Employers also need to consider that they may employ perpetrators,” adds Natalie. “Businesses should make clear that such conduct, whether inside or outside of work, could, in some circumstances, lead to disciplinary action or dismissal.”

Further advice and support

  • The government launched the #YouAreNotAlone campaign during the first pandemic lockdown in April 2020, containing a checklist for managers to use if an employee says they are experiencing domestic abuse.

  • Business in the Community has created an employer toolkit, which includes example questions an employer/manager may wish to use to open a conversation regarding suspected domestic abuse.

  • The Employer’s Initiative on Domestic Abuse has guidance for business owners on helping employees when their home is not a safe place.

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