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Now is the time for employers to tackle domestic abuse

14 Aug 2018 By Louise Aston

Louise Aston discusses how businesses can better handle this often uncomfortable topic to help staff in need

Currently, the topic of domestic abuse is in the foothills – neglected and deeply taboo, positioned where mental health was about a decade ago. Although gaining visibility, with the government showing its determination for positive change with the new Domestic Violence Bill, it doesn’t feature as a topic for many organisations as yet.

Statistically, domestic abuse is prevalent and a risk for every employer, with one in four women and one in six men suffering from domestic abuse in their lifetime. Employers have a duty of care and a legal responsibility to provide a safe and supportive environment for employees to disclose that they are experiencing domestic abuse and access appropriate support.

The cross-government definition of domestic violence and abuse is: “Any incident or pattern of incidents of controlling, coercive, threatening behaviour, violence or abuse between those aged 16 or over who are, or have been, intimate partners or family members regardless of gender or sexuality.”

Alongside the immeasurable human cost, there is also a compelling business case. Three-quarters (75 per cent) of people who experience domestic abuse are targeted at work and failure to intervene costs employers almost £2 billion per year. Over half (54 per cent) of employers say domestic abuse has caused the quality of employees’ work to suffer, while 56 per cent found it led to absenteeism.

Research commissioned by the Vodafone Foundation highlighted that, although 86 per cent of HR leads agree employers have a duty of care to provide support to employees on the issue, only 5 per cent of organisations have a specific policy or guidelines in place. An effective workplace policy or guidance is critical to raise awareness and identify responsibilities. Employers have an average of less than one employee disclose issues of domestic abuse to them each year, which suggests that staff don’t feel supported to raise the issue.

We know that domestic abuse is a highly uncomfortable topic for many employers and that they may not know how to begin to discuss the issue or develop a policy to support employees.

That’s why Business in the Community, in association with Public Health England and sponsored by The Insurance Charities, has produced a freely available domestic abuse toolkit aimed at all employers, an important addition to the existing suite of interconnected employer toolkits. Domestic abuse is not an acute standalone topic but interrelated, with other toolkit suite topics including mental health, suicide prevention, sleep and recovery, and drugs, alcohol and tobacco. At the root of providing employees support is the ability for line managers to spot changes in behaviour, initiate open conversations and actively listen, and have the confidence to signpost colleagues to appropriate support.

This new toolkit advocates three calls to action:

Acknowledge

Use this toolkit to help understand the issues, and acknowledge every employer’s responsibility to address domestic abuse. Enable colleagues to openly discuss this topic, and provide a supportive workplace.

Respond

Review your policies and processes to make sure you are providing a supportive workplace and can respond to disclosure.

Refer

Provide access to organisations which can help employees affected by the issue. For example, signpost to a resource such as the Bright Sky app to report concerns.

We hope the toolkit will build awareness about domestic abuse, dispel myths and fuel debate, resulting in positive employer action that could prevent suffering and save lives.

Louise Aston is wellbeing director at Business in the Community

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