Beyond the Home: Why Workplaces Must Address Domestic Violence

June 14, 2024 thehrobserver-hrobserver-workplace

At the time, I worked for a large hotel chain, and whilst there wasn’t a formal policy for supporting employees facing domestic abuse, my supervisor, former military personnel, took some proactive measures to ensure my safety.

Despite his vigilance, when he wasn’t on duty, I would have to walk to my car after dark. Resorting to parking in different spots and altering my departure times became futile attempts to evade my perpetrator. 

I didn’t dare to seek further help from my employer, as I wasn’t confident, they would believe me or know what to do. I also thought this was all my fault and they were not responsible for supporting me. Survivors of abuse are riddled with guilt and shame, and for me, bringing that into the workplace at the management level wasn’t an option. Ultimately, I moved to a different employer because that felt like the only option, as I was scared that if they found out what was going on, I would be terminated. 

A survey conducted in the UK by the Employers Initiative on Domestic Abuse (EIDA) found that over 47% of those experiencing domestic abuse say their perpetrator turned up at their workplace or stalked them outside their place of work. This is why employers are uniquely positioned to address and reduce employee risk of harm from the perpetrator within the workplace setting. 

Domestic abuse happens in the home, so why is it an employer’s business? 

While domestic abuse occurs in the home, its effects often spill over into the workplace. According to the International Labour Organisation (ILO), domestic violence can severely and persistently impact workers’ safety, health, and well-being, diminishing their ability to stay at work and perform to their full potential. This leads to higher sick leave rates, presenteeism, and decreased participation in training and career advancement opportunities. The Employers’ Initiative on Domestic Abuse (EIDA) reports that one in fifty women will lose their jobs as a result of domestic abuse.

Here are three essential steps to foster a supportive work environment:

Step 1: Take Immediate preventative measures

Supporting employees doesn’t have to involve large expenditures. Simple measures can make a significant difference. Conducting a risk assessment to identify appropriate control measures is a good start. Examples include flexible working hours, providing temporary financial assistance, connecting employees with local support services, and allowing time off to visit the courts or police. Many employees have to use their vacation days for such needs, especially during divorce proceedings, which results in them never getting a respite. HR departments can also assist by removing the perpetrator as the next of kin on employee records or providing them with a new work telephone number.

Step 2: Provide awareness training 

Offering domestic abuse training to employees can significantly improve their ability to recognise and identify signs of abuse, as well as guide individuals to appropriate support resources. Although dealing with domestic abuse situations can be daunting, simply directing employees to the right resources can be immensely beneficial. Employees do not expect their employer to solve their problems, but having access to support services can make a huge difference.

Moreover, training helps to challenge and dispel common misconceptions about domestic abuse, fostering a more empathetic and supportive workplace culture. Training reduces stigma by addressing these misconceptions and promotes a workplace environment where employees feel safe and supported. 

Step 3: Create a policy 

For any policy to be effective, it must have the full support of the senior leadership team and be visible, accessible, and understood by everyone in the organisation. A policy should be a living document, actively used and referred to, not something that sits in a filing cabinet gathering dust. At a minimum, a domestic abuse policy should include:

  • Definition of Abuse
  • Roles and Responsibilities, Including Confidentiality Arrangements
  • How to Recognise, Report, and Respond to Abuse
  • How to Conduct Safety Planning for the Employee
  • Internal and External Support Contacts
  • Policy Review and Employee Training

Unfortunately, domestic abuse is far more prevalent than many realise. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), one in three women and one in seven men will experience domestic violence in their lifetime. Even if you think it seems irrelevant to your business, look closer. It’s a risk hidden in plain sight. By recognising and addressing it, companies can make a significant positive impact on the lives of their employees.

Saria Moran

Recovery Expert

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