Domestic abuse ‘is a risk for every employer’

Business group calls for greater recognition of victims in the workplace, as national statistics show an increase in cases

Business groups and charities have called for domestic abuse to be recognised as a workplace issue, as official statistics show an increase in the crime across England and Wales.

Business in the Community (BITC) has called for what it described as “the last workplace taboo” to be broken, as figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) showed a 24 per cent rise in the number of domestic abuse-related crimes reported to the police in the year ending March 2019.

The ONS study also found the total number of incidents of domestic abuse had remained unchanged since 2009.

Louise Aston, wellbeing director at BITC, said businesses needed to acknowledge that both victims and perpetrators of domestic abuse could be employees in their workplace. “The silence must be broken, and the misunderstanding that domestic abuse is not a workplace issue [owing to] the myth that it only happens at home needs to be dispelled,” she said.

Citing earlier ONS data, Aston said one in four women, and one in six men, suffered domestic abuse in their lifetime, making it a “risk for every employer”.

Lucy Hadley, campaigns and public affairs officer at Women’s Aid, also emphasised how important employment can be for domestic abuse victims. “For those survivors who are in the workplace, it can be one of the only places that they're safe to speak out and get the help they need,” she said.

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“It's really important that workplaces not only raise awareness of the issue, but they also have the policies and procedures in place that enable them to respond safely. 

“It can be difficult to know what to do or what to say, so it's really important that the HR leads and managers have the training they need to give that good response so they're not victim blaming or telling the person they should leave the perpetrator – because there are often many reasons that they can't.” 

Earlier research by Durham University, which surveyed 200 HR directors from large and medium-sized UK employers, found that among the organisations where employees had disclosed they were victims of domestic abuse, 25 per cent said abuse had occurred in the workplace, and 16 per cent said it had caused an employee to leave the organisation.

Hadley added that domestic abuse had “huge impacts on productivity and on businesses, so it's really important from a business perspective that this issue is taken seriously”.

The Durham research found that among HR leaders who believed employees in their firm were affected by domestic abuse, 54 per cent said it affected staff members’ quality of work and 46 per cent said it impacted on other colleagues’ productivity.

Patrick Ryan, chief executive of crisis support charity Hestia, said businesses had “a unique role to play in breaking the silence around domestic abuse and ensuring victims can access the help and support they need. If an employer believes that none of their staff are victims, they need to think again.”

He advised employers to look out for “increased absence or sickness, frequent visits from a partner, as well as change in behaviour”, and said that “recognising these signs and being able to intervene could save a life”.

The ONS said the increase in the number of domestic abuse-related crimes could be caused by either a rise in the number of victims reporting crimes to the police, or improved police reporting. 

Overall, an estimated 2.4 million adults experienced domestic abuse last year, around 6 per cent of the adult population in the UK.