Domestic Abuse & The Workplace

It is estimated that there are 2.3 million victims of domestic abuse aged between 16 and 76 each year and this number has increased considerably in light of the government-imposed lockdown periods. Accordingly to the Office of National Statistics, the police recorded 206,492 offences flagged as domestic abuse related between March and June 2020, a 9% increase on the same period the year before.

A workplace may be one of the few places where victims feel safe to speak out, and often provides safety and respite from their abuser. Domestic abuse can often be an underlying reason for poor performance and absence-related issues at work and is frequently only disclosed during capability or conduct proceedings.

On 14 January 2021, the government published an open letter to employers calling on them to support victims of domestic abuse. It was stated that companies needed to “burst the stigma” surrounding domestic abuse and subsequently called on them to create safe spaces for individuals to disclose issues and/or to look for help.

The Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy (BEIS) has now published a report setting out the findings from its review into how victims of domestic abuse can be supported at work and the actions the government will take as a result. The three main themes of the report are:

  • Raising awareness. The report considers the need for employers to spot the signs of domestic abuse, how they can respond safely and effectively to a disclosure from a member of staff and how they can support staff who need to access specialist services.
  • Providing support through the development of best practice. The report suggests that employers should, wherever possible, have a policy on domestic abuse. It also recommends practical steps that employers can take to support victims of domestic abuse, training for line managers and HR, a proactive role on the part of senior leadership and the use of Domestic Abuse Champions within the workplace.
  • Employment rights. The government will consult on taking forward its manifesto commitment to “encourage flexible working and to making it the default unless employers have a good reason not to” and on the steps which can be taken to enable victims of domestic abuse to exercise their existing rights more effectively.

The report characterises a supportive workplace as one in which the employer:

  • Recognises domestic abuse as a problem, believes a victim and ensures confidentiality and consent in any process that follows;
  • Can signpost specialist services to an employee and support an employee in accessing those services and making choices; and
  • Has a clear and visible policy setting out how it will support employees and how it will deal with disclosures and issues related to domestic abuse.

Following the publication of the report, ACAS announced new advice for employers on how to support staff that are experiencing domestic abuse. ACAS has suggested that the first step for employers at this time is to provide a safe workplace for those at risk of domestic abuse. It also highlighted practical steps such as introducing a policy and providing training to managers.

If you would like assistance in drafting and implementing a policy or would like to explore training for your workplace to raise awareness of domestic abuse, then please do not hesitate to contact Sarah Collier, Partner & Head of Employment.