support for domestic violence – employer obligations

support for domestic violence – employer obligations

The killing of Sarah Everard this month has shocked all of us to our core.  This led to an outpouring of emotion and the sharing of experiences of women online highlighting just how prevalent crimes of violence against women are.  This prompted the Home Secretary to reopen a public consultation which is hoped will review and tackle violence against women. In this article we look into the support for domestic violence provided by employers and how this could be improved.

Whilst the focus this month related to the risk from strangers, sadly such violence also takes place in the home.  As Dawn Butler MP stated “the extent of domestic abuse is shocking – a woman is killed every three days on average by a man.  As I made clear in the House of Commons debate on International Women’s Day, we need to get to the root of this crisis urgently”.

Since the pandemic hit and we were ordered into lockdown, household isolation has caused further anxiety for those at risk of domestic abuse.  Whilst obtaining accurate data on domestic abuse is difficult, statistics from the Office for National Statistics indicates that there was a significant increase in offences during the first lockdown between April and June 2020.

The home has become the workplace for millions more people in the last year.  So if the home isn’t safe, the workplace isn’t safe either. So to what extent do employers have obligations to ensure the wellbeing of their employees?

Last year the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) launched a review focused on the support for domestic violence that can be provided by employers towards victims in their employment.  The response confirms that this is a workplace issue and outlines guidance for employers.  Whilst the BEIS response does not create a statutory obligation on employers, as such, employers do have a legal duty of care to provide a safe place of work.  Employers must also be mindful of a victim suffering from depression, anxiety and PTSD which can represent a disability and create further obligations under the Equality Act.

So, whilst employers are not expected to become experts in domestic abuse and support, as such, they should be alive to these real issues, raise awareness and offer training among managers, have policies, create a supportive network, and have resources available to direct employees towards the organisations that can help. Employers need to ensure that their employees have access to these resources to become better at dealing with domestic violence in the workplace. 

The first issue is recognising the signs as the victim may not be able or comfortable to tell you.  Signs may include being withdrawn, a change in appearance, bruises, absenteeism, a dip in performance, a webcam switched off or having electronic communications monitored. Requests for wages to be paid into a partner’s account should also ring alarm bells for employers. There are also reports of partners refusing to watch the children so women can’t attend virtual meetings and other attempts to undermine a victim’s attempts to work which is a form of economic abuse. 

Conversely, employers must also be mindful that they may have an employee who is the perpetrator of domestic violence.  If an employer is alerted to this appropriate action should be taken and the relevant authorities notified.  And don’t forget, men can experience domestic abuse too.

Further information for employers can be found in the ACAS guidance here

If you are worried about a friend, you are advised to call Refuge’s National Domestic Abuse Helpline for free, confidential support on 0808 2000 247 or visit their helpline here

Victims of domestic abuse are advised to seek help from friends, the police, online support helplines and refuges.  Further advice on support for domestic violence is available here

This blog is by Caroline Oliver, Senior Solicitor at didlaw