Domestic Abuse – is it our business?

Domestic Abuse – is it our business?

As employers, domestic abuse is not our business, or is it? 

“There is a part for everyone to play, together we can signal to survivors and victims, that they are not alone” (Victoria Atkins Minister for Safeguarding)

In the light of the recent lockdowns due to the coronavirus pandemic, calls to domestic abuse services increased by up to 80%. A new government report published in January 2021 entitled Workplace support for victims of domestic abuse found that very few employers were aware of the signs of domestic abuse let alone have a policy in place to support survivors.

So, when it comes to domestic abuse, where do employers come in? It could be that in many circumstances the only other people outside the home that survivors have contact with and talk to are their work colleagues.  These colleagues can be invaluable in helping to provide a link to support for the survivors of domestic abuse and it is likely to be beneficial to the work environment if survivors are made to feel they can talk to colleagues openly.

In January 2021 Business Minister, Paul Scully wrote an open letter to all UK employers in which, when referring to the assistance employers can give, he indicated that it doesn’t mean making employers into counsellors or healthcare workers but the actions [he] outlined can be as simple as providing a safe space to talk which in turn can have a life-changing impact on survivors.

The open letter can be viewed on the link below:

There are over two million victims of domestic abuse a year in the UK most, but certainly not all, of whom are women. The impacts on victims and their children can be significant and wide ranging. Victims may suffer long-lasting health problems but also crippling financial difficulties.

There is also a considerable cost to the economy due to lost output as a result of time off work and reduced productivity as a consequence of domestic abuse.

Lost productivity and absence linked to domestic abuse can mean significant losses for both individuals and employers. Research puts the losses to businesses at around £316m each year as a result of work absences related to domestic abuse.

The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has brought domestic abuse to the forefront, seeing increased coverage in the media largely due to the fact that many people are forced to work from home. It is notable that the Government has launched the hashtag  #YouAreNotAlone which gives guidance to employers as to how they can best reassure employees suffering domestic abuse and confirming the household isolation instructions do not apply to them if they need to leave the home to escape domestic abuse.

Although it is recognised that there is no ‘one-size fits all’ approach to responding to the need for support for victims and survivors, there are some main characteristics a supportive workplace has

  • recognition of the problem, belief in the victim’s story and ensuring they consent to any further steps;
  • employers signposting to specialist services and suggesting alternative options for the individual to decide between; and
  • a clear and visible policy which sets out the support offer and approach for dealing with disclosures and issues related to domestic abuse

Best practice for employers

  • working closely with trade unions (if applicable) and/or organisations specialising in supporting victims of domestic abuse in shaping a policy and approach;
  • having a comprehensive domestic abuse policy which sets out signs of domestic abuse, roles and responsibilities as well as what the employer can practically offer in terms of financial assistance, flexibility and paid leave;
  • offering  practical support  to employees for example paying salaries into separate accounts, additional financial assistance, access to counselling or other health related services, access to time and space within work to make calls and other arrangements as well as flexibility and time out of work;
  • taking steps to ensure safety in and around the place of work, providing a safe car park space or accompanying the employees to/from public transport, ensuring the details of  employee’s whereabouts are not accessible to others (particularly the perpetrator); and
  • having an appropriate approach to perpetrators or other employees showing abusive behaviours

The company’s policy on domestic abuse should be embedded in the wider organisation:

  • a specific domestic abuse policy is more effective when it is embedded into the wider organisational frameworks and cultures so that it is cross referenced in HR policies and linked to approaches to diversity and inclusion and health and wellbeing
  • the policy should be followed through with appropriate signposting – e.g. putting up posters and leaflets/guidance around the workplace and on the internal intranet showing a list of local service providers or specialist apps
  • employers should consider becoming or appointing Domestic Abuse champions who raise visibility of the issue and are trained to spot the signs of abuse and how to respond and refer individuals on
  • senior management and leadership raising the issue of domestic abuse can also play a key role in changing workplace culture and breaking down barriers

There are numerous areas of assistance available to support the employer in developing their response to domestic abuse and a few are mentioned below:

Business in the Community COVID-19 Domestic Abuse Toolkit for Employers

The Everyone’s Business Advice Line for Employers

Employers Initiative on Domestic Abuse website provides resources to support employers

If you require any help or advice on a Domestic Abuse policy or any other areas of employment law please contact us on 01782 262031or email