Supporting employees as domestic abuse concerns grow in COVID-19 lockdown period

By Claire McCartney, Senior Policy Adviser at CIPD. 

One of several health, well-being and safety concerns relating to the impact of COVID-19 and the current period of isolation and lockdown, is that incidences of domestic abuse are likely to increase and that escape routes could be cut off. 

Last week the National Domestic Abuse helpline, run by charity Refuge, reported a 25% increase in calls and online requests for help since the lockdown. It received hundreds more calls last week compared to two weeks earlier, however, the charity has also said pressure on other serviceand awareness campaigns could have contributed to the increase. 

Refuge’s chief executive, Sandra Horley, believes that self-isolation has the potential to aggravate pre-existing abuse behaviours. Abuse is not always physical, but rather a pattern of controlling, threatening and coercive behaviour, which can also be emotional, economic, psychological or sexual. Abuse is a choice a perpetrator makes, and isolation is already used by many perpetrators as a tool of control. 

Police are emphasising that women and men facing abuse at home during the lockdown should still report their experiences to police and seek support from domestic abuse services. 

The Government has announced that a national communications campaign #YouAreNotAlone will be launched for those at risk of domestic abuse. Two million pounds will also be provided to enhance online support services and helplines.  

How can employers support those at risk? 

Employers are in a strong position to create a supportive workplace culture that encourages the recognition of health and well-being needs and supports employees to seek help. They can also help to break the silence around this important issue. It’s vital that employers, and in particular HR and line managers, know how to respond when they suspect someone may need help or if an employee discloses that they are experiencing domestic abuse. 

At the CIPD, we are in the process of updating our practical guidance to employers around domestic abuse, with special attention given to the current circumstances we find ourselves inOur previous guidance highlights four key areas to focus attention on – this includes recognising the problem, responding, providing support and referring to the appropriate help.  

Recognise the problem  

• Look for sudden changes in behaviour and/or changes in the quality of work performance for unexplained reasons despite a previously strong record. 

• Look for changes in the way an employee dresses, for example excessive clothing on hot days, changes in the amount of make-up worn. This is obviously not as easy to do with remote working but could be picked up in video meetings.  

• Domestic abuse is often a hidden problem and individuals can find it very difficult to disclose. Ask open and empathetic questions such ashow are you doing at the moment? Are there any issues you would like to discuss with me? I have noticed recently that you are not yourself. Is anything the matter? 



• Believe an employee if they disclose experiencing domestic abuse – do not ask for proof.  

• Reassure the employee that the organisation understands how domestic abuse may affect their work performance and the explain any support that can be offered. 


Provide support 

• Agree with the employee what to tell colleagues and how they should respond if their ex/partner telephones or visits the physical workplace. 

• Keep a record of any incidents of abuse in the workplace, including persistent telephone calls, emails or visits to the workplace. 

• Make sure that line managers are checking-in frequently with employees so that they can raise any concerns or worries and offer support. This is even more important for remote workers who are likely to feel more isolated and potentially vulnerable. 

• Signpost employees to professional support, such as some of the resources listed below. 

• Share domestic abuse helpline posters in physical and virtual spaces (such as on the back of toilet doors, your intranet etc.) See Refuge poster resources below. 


 Refer to the appropriate help 

• Have a list of the support services offered in your area that are easily accessible and refer employees to appropriate organisations that deal with domestic abuse. The CIPD provides sources of further support for employees experiencing domestic abuse and for employers – some of which are listed below. 


Sources of support 

Below are a number of sources of support highlighted on the Government’s website that you can share with employees.  


Call 999 

If you are in immediate danger, call 999 and ask for the police - the police will continue to respond to emergency calls 

If you are in danger and unable to talk on the phone, call 999 and then press 55. This will transfer your call to the relevant police force who will assist you without you having to speak. 

National Domestic Abuse Helpline 

The National Domestic Abuse Helpline website provides guidance and support for potential victims, as well as those who are worried about friends and loved ones. They can also be called, for free and in confidence, 24 hours a day on 0808 2000 247. The website also has a form through which women can book a safe time for a call from the team. 

Women’s Aid 

Women’s Aid has provided additional advice specifically designed for the current coronavirus outbreak, including a live chat service. 

Men’s Advice Line 

The Men’s Advice Line is a confidential helpline for male victims of domestic abuse and those supporting them. It can be contacted on 0808 801 0327. 

Galop - for members of the LGBT+ community 

If you are a member of the LGBT+ community, Galop runs a specialist helpline on 0800 999 5428 or email 

Economic abuse 

If you are concerned about how coronavirus may affect your finances and leave you vulnerable to economic abuse, please see the advice provided by HM Treasury on what support is on offer. The charity Surviving Economic Abuse has also provided additional guidance and support. 


Hestia provides a free-to-download mobile app, Bright Sky, which provides support and information to anyone who may be in an abusive relationship or those concerned about someone they know. 


Chayn provides online help and resources in a number of languages, ranging from identifying manipulative situations and how friends can support those being abused. 

Support for professionals 

SafeLives is providing guidance and support to professionals and those working in the domestic abuse sector, as well as additional advice for those at risk. 

Support if you are worried about hurting someone 

If you are worried about hurting the ones you love while staying at home, call the Respect Phoneline for support and help to manage your behaviour, 0808 8024040 


Business in the Community and PHE’s (2018) Domestic Abuse Toolkit aimed at raising awareness of the issue with employers and providing guidance on how they can support those affected by it. 

Refuge and Respect (2010) Domestic Abuse Resource Manual for Employers. This comprehensive resource is designed to help employers and HR professionals respond to employees who are victims or perpetrators of abuse. For more information contact 

Posters and resources employers can share in their physical and virtual workspace to help spot the warning signs of abuse, while signposting to where people can go to get support.  

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