Supporting an employee at risk of domestic abuse

Before the pandemic, an estimated 2.4 million adults had experienced domestic abuse in the previous 12 months. The HR Dept Durham shares their advice on this crisis and their involvement in the creation of Sharon’s Policy, which aims to help employers spot the signs of domestic abuse and understand how best to support employees.

The domestic abuse crisis got even worse in 2020. Calls to domestic abuse helplines from people seeking support during lockdown increased by 9 percent.

First and foremost, this poses a serious threat to the personal safety of millions of people. However, the impact runs further still. UK businesses are estimated to be losing £14 billion each year in lost productivity and absences related to domestic abuse.

Despite this, the Employers’ Initiative on Domestic Abuse (EIDA) reports that just 5 percent of employers have specific policies or guidelines in place to help them tackle the problem.

These are just some of the reasons why we have collaborated with Sharon Livermore, the Domestic Abuse Alliance (DA) and EIDA on a new domestic abuse policy and training for employers, so that they can be confident in supporting survivors of domestic abuse in the workplace.

Sharon’s story shows an urgent need for better support.

Sharon Livermore, a businesswoman from Cambridge, was required to use five days of her annual leave to attend a court case concerning an abusive partner who is now incarcerated. Sharon says that her employer hadn’t realised the extent of her experience, or known how best to support her whilst she was living with an abuser.

As a survivor herself, Sharon recognises that more can be done to make sure that employers are well informed on how to support an employee at risk of domestic abuse.

We are proud to have been involved in the creation of Sharon’s Policy along with Sharon, the DA and EIDA, which aims to help employers spot the signs of domestic abuse and understand how best to support employees.

What is domestic abuse?
In order to spot the signs of domestic abuse, it’s vital to first understand what domestic abuse is.

Domestic abuse can affect anyone, regardless of their sex, age or race. It consists of any incident or pattern of incidents of controlling, coercive or threatening behaviour, violence or abuse between those aged 16 or over who are or have been intimate partners or family members, regardless of gender or sexuality.

This can encompass, but is not limited to, the following types of abuse: psychological, physical, sexual, financial, emotional.

The four Rs which can save lives

Sharon’s Policy focuses and elaborates on the following four Rs. It is through following these that employers can confidently take action on the issue of domestic abuse before it’s too late.

1. Recognise the problem
This can be difficult, especially when employees are working remotely. Some signs may include: A sudden change in behaviour or performance, regular interruptions including surprise visits or gifts from a current or ex-partner, not wanting to leave work or desperate to leave on time, depression, unexplained injuries or cover ups e.g. heavy clothing in summer.

This is not an exhaustive list and people can show varying signs and symptoms.

2. Respond appropriately
Domestic abuse is a sensitive subject and must be managed with care. From choosing an appropriate place and time for a private discussion, to being aware of the body language and questions you use when speaking to an employee about domestic abuse.
It is not appropriate to give advice. However you can listen, understand and explain the support you are able to provide. This may be through flexible working (if appropriate), access to a dedicated helpline or making necessary workplace adjustments.

3. Record the details
Keep a record of conversations and any workplace adjustments that you make. These records can provide important evidence if needed in a civil or criminal court.

4. Refer to appropriate help and support
If you believe an employee is in immediate danger, call the police on 999.

The following sources can provide dedicated information and support:

  • National Domestic Abuse Helpline – Tel: 0808 2000 247.
  • Respect: The Men’s Advice Line, for male domestic abuse survivors. Tel: 0808 801 0327
  • The Mix, for under 25s in the UK – Tel: 0808 808 4994
  • National LGBT+ Domestic Abuse Helpline – Tel: 0800 999 5428
  • Samaritans – Tel: 116 123
  • Respond, a charity supporting people with learning disabilities, their relatives and professionals affected by trauma and abuse.

Domestic abuse does not discriminate and can happen anywhere in the world. Recognising the scope of the problem, New Zealand passed legislation on paid domestic violence leave. The UK government’s consultation on the topic has concluded, and the findings on support in the workplace for victims of domestic abuse have been published here.

If you need advice on developing and implementing best practice support for victims of domestic abuse in the workplace, or you would like to receive a free copy of Sharon’s Policy and training for your staff, please contact the HR Dept Durham.

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