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; but can also be financial, emotional and psychological.

Most survivors are women with a male perpetrator, but it’s important to remember that men can also be subject to abuse, and domestic abuse can happen in same-sex relationships. We should therefore not make assumptions about who the abuser may be or what a survivor may be experiencing, but listen and respond in a supportive way.

The CIPD and the EHRC have launched new guidance for organisations

Last month, the CIPD and the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) launched comprehensive guidance for organisations on supporting employees experiencing domestic abuse. This is important because there can be a tendency for organisations to see this as personal rather than a workplace issue. 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*.

Yet, domestic abuse has an impact at work. Research shows that a high proportion of those enduring domestic abuse are targeted at work and 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.

The impact of the pandemic and new ways of working

Sadly, there is evidence that incidences of domestic abuse have increased as a result of the pandemic and related restrictions. The changing nature of work due to the pandemic also means that more people are working from home and therefore 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.

Key recommendations for employers

It’s essential that employers are knowledgeable about domestic abuse as they are ideally placed to offer key support to those experiencing it. Through our guidance, we want 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.

We recommend employers have a clear policy in place for 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

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.
  • 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 how 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.

The CIPD's response to the Government's consultation

The CIPD has also responded to the Government’s consultation on Domestic Abuse and Workplace Support. For more information on our submission, see here.

*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+).

About the author

Claire McCartney, Senior Policy Adviser, Resourcing and Inclusion

Claire specialises in the areas of equality, diversity and inclusion, flexible working, resourcing and talent management. She has also conducted research into meaning and trust at work, age diversity, workplace carers and enterprise and has worked on a number of international projects. She is the author of several reports and articles and regularly presents at seminars and conferences.

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