Domestic abuse is a hugely destructive problem and impacts upon an individual’s wellbeing and their ability to keep themselves and their family safe. The situation they are living in is also likely to impact upon their ability to perform well at work.
Most abusers will cut their partner off from their family and friends and so the workplace may be a crucial opportunity to find support.
Employers have a duty of care to their staff and so should consider how best they can support employees affected by domestic abuse. Provision of this support makes business sense too as living with domestic abuse affects staff performance, morale, sickness absence and may impact upon an organisation’s image and reputation.
The North Somerset business response: how to become a Domestic Abuse Aware Employer
To assist businesses with this important work Public Health England has produced a comprehensive toolkit. Employers in North Somerset are encouraged to use this toolkit to develop a staff domestic abuse policy. However, we recognise that some businesses may feel that they cannot currently undertake all of the actions suggested by the toolkit. Safer and Stronger Communities therefore calls upon all North Somerset businesses to become a Domestic Abuse Aware Employer.
Some key actions which businesses could implement are outlined below:
1. Understand the issue:
Domestic abuse is the abuse of power by one person over another, and can take many forms including coercive control, economic abuse and physical violence. See www.saferstrongerns.co.uk/advice-for-survivors
2. Give out a clear message that your organisation can support staff affected by domestic abuse:
- Display domestic abuse posters, leaflets and handbooks in communal areas
- Find ways to communicate to staff the organisation’s support around this issue – eg, text in newsletters on company intranet, in staff briefings
Contact email@example.com for resources to display and support with developing a staff policy or for input into staff communications
3. Know the signs:
Domestic abuse can affect anyone, regardless of their gender, demographics or socio-economic background. Most people who suffer it find it very hard to talk about. Some signs which indicate that domestic abuse may be a factor in someone’s life are:
- Injuries – Visible marks and/ or mobility & pain issues
- Wearing clothes that don’t fit the season or reference to partner choosing clothes
- Needing to start or leave work at very specific times
- Not attending work socials
- Lots of phone calls throughout the day from their partner
- Personality change (confident to low self-esteem)
- Spending more time at work when not needed
- Day to day colleague conversations suggesting coercive control
4. Broaching the issue:
If domestic abuse is suspected:
It is important that someone talks to an individual who may be experiencing domestic abuse as they may find it very hard to raise the issue themselves. Indirect questions can be used such as “Is everything alright at home? You don’t have to tell me but please know that I would like to support you when you feel ready…”.
If domestic abuse is disclosed:
- Suggest that you go somewhere quiet and comfortable, away from the office/desk if possible
- Acknowledge the courage of the employee and how difficult it must be to talk
- Confirm the complete confidentiality of the disclosure. As a guide, any information should only be disclosed to anyone else if it is absolutely necessary in providing help and support and with the prior agreement of the person who has disclosed.
- Have an open posture. Reach towards them but be sensitive that they may feel threatened by invasion of personal space
- Be prepared for them to be upset and tearful
- Do not be judgemental. Avoid language that indicates blame or fault (“Why don’t you leave?” /“How can you let this happen?” / “Why haven’t you told anyone before?”)
- Allow plenty of time and space for them to speak
- Following disclosure, contact HR or an appropriate colleague for a debrief whilst respecting the individual’s confidentiality
5. Provide support:
The help which an employer can provide around domestic abuse must be tailored to suit the individual’s needs and can play a key part in ensuring someone’s safety.
Actions which an employer might consider (this is not an exhaustive list):
- Improve safety in work
- Notify security, divert phone and email
- Temporary work location / access to building
- Risk assess working environment – lone working, distance to car
- Change starting and finishing times, patterns of work
- Action plan at the employee’s pace, actions could include:
- Enabling them to use the organisation’s phone and IT to access support (this could be the DAFFS line 0800 6949 999 (weekdays, 9am to 5pm) for advice and information on local domestic abuse support)
- Enabling them to meet a support service in the workplace during work time
- Starting flexible working arrangements
- Making a change to contact details / next of kin
- Changing bank account / alternative methods of payment
- Signposting to help with housing, council tax, benefits
Further help for employers on supporting anyone around this issue
The North Somerset Safer and Stronger Communities Team is on hand to provide support and guidance when providing individual support and/or when developing a policy. The team can also put you in touch with local employers who have experience in providing support around this issue. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org
For advice on local support in North Somerset see our page for those affected by domestic abuse or contact the DAFFS line on 0800 6949 999 (9am to 5pm) or, outside these hours the national helpline run by Women’s Aid and Refuge on 0808 2000 247.