Domestic abuse can destroy lives, leaving physical and emotional scars. Those experiencing domestic abuse can find themselves isolated from friends and family and lose their independence. It can take many forms, not just physical abuse; it can also be financial, emotional and psychological.

Domestic abuse has an impact at work. Research shows that a high proportion of those enduring domestic abuse are targeted at work. Domestic abuse can negatively affect those abused as well as their workplace colleagues. However, importantly, the workplace can often be one of the few places that a person experiencing abuse can be separate from their abuser, and therefore can be the place where people are able to ask for and access support.

It’s essential that employers are knowledgeable about domestic abuse as they are ideally placed to offer key support to those experiencing it. The aim of this guidance, produced with the EHRC, is to encourage more employers to take an active supporting role, which can make a huge difference to employees experiencing domestic abuse and their future, with practical recommendations of how to do that.

A CIPD survey of UK employees* suggests that just under a quarter (24%) are aware of their employer having a policy or support in place on domestic abuse. We recommend employers have a clear policy in place on supporting employees experiencing domestic abuse, but also an effective framework of support. Most importantly though, employees need to be made aware of the policy and how to access support if they need it. We propose that this framework of employer support could be made up of four steps:

  • Recognise the problem
  • Respond appropriately to disclosure
  • Provide support
  • Refer to the appropriate help.

It’s essential to note that with the changing nature of work as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and related restrictions, more people are working from home, meaning escape routes or time apart from an abuser may be dramatically curtailed. Employers need to think about how support can be maintained as we all work in different ways. An empathetic, non-judgmental approach and flexibility (for example in working hours or concerning work tasks) are two key areas employers should focus on.

*Data was collected as part of the CIPD’s COVID-19 Working Lives survey and is based on responses from 1080 working adults. The survey was conducted online by YouGov in June 2020. Figures have been weighted and are representative of all UK working adults (aged 18+).

Key recommendations

Together with the EHRC the CIPD’s key recommendations are as follows:

  • Develop a domestic abuse policy and create an effective framework around domestic abuse support.
  • Where an organisation has a recognised trade union, policies should be reviewed and agreed with union representatives.
  • Employers have a duty of care for the health, safety and wellbeing of their staff and are in a strong position to create a safe and supportive workplace environment.
  • Think about the safety/security measures that may be required.
  • Treat everyone as an individual as everyone’s situation will be different. It’s important not to make assumptions about what someone is experiencing or what they need, or the sex of the perpetrator.
  • Create open work cultures that help to break the silence around this important issue and ensure people know that the organisation will support people experiencing domestic abuse to seek help.
  • Offer flexibility to enable people to attend counselling, legal and finance appointments, get support from professional organisations and make arrangements, for example concerning childcare and housing.
  • Outline people’s different roles and responsibilities when it comes to supporting employees experiencing domestic abuse. For example, HR should take central responsibility for developing a policy and procedures on domestic abuse and facilitating awareness-raising training. Line managers should receive appropriate training on how to effectively support someone experiencing domestic abuse. They need to be clear on the practical steps outlined in this guidance to encourage and appropriately respond to the disclosure of abuse and signpost people to professional support. They also have an obligation to prioritise confidentiality wherever possible. Supportive and empathetic employees and co-workers can assist an affected colleague in gaining confidence to seek support.
  • Make it clear that abusive behaviour is the responsibility of the perpetrator and misconduct inside and outside of work is viewed seriously – and can lead to disciplinary action.
  • Signpost to supportive services, charities and organisations and outline the types of support that someone might need, such as: legal support, housing support, support with childcare, support in dealing with financial abuse, specialist counselling.

Download the report to learn more about our recommendations for employers and managers.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission is Great Britain’s national equality body and has been awarded an ‘A’ status as a National Human Rights Institution (NHRI) by the United Nations.

Its job is to help make Britain fairer. They do this by safeguarding and enforcing the laws that protect people’s rights to fairness, dignity and respect.

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