According to Stephanie Klass, partner in commercial law at Berg & Co, employers who believe staff may be experiencing domestic violence should enquire as to whether that individual needs help, although they need not voice their suspicions directly.
However, if such enquiries or offers of help are consistently refused, then the employer must respect that decision. “Active intervention must be dealt with very, very carefully,” Klass says. “Indeed, any direct intervention should occur only if and when the individual wants that intervention.”
While this protects the employee’s right to privacy, if the situation directly affects their performance at work, the employer may have no option but to address that performance through established disciplinary procedures – with all the concurrent complications. It is clear that creating a culture where such problems can be addressed is of paramount importance for HR.
Keith Astill, head of corporate personnel at Nationwide building society, outlines its four-step policy.
The first element is “a work-life balance flexibility to deal with the need of people to take time off at short notice for short periods of time.” This facility enables people to “deal with practicalities – housing, court appearances if necessary or simply to spend time with family and friends”.
In addition to this, Nationwide provides a welfare fund with interest-free loans to help alleviate immediate financial problems, plus around-the-clock access to free and confidential counselling services. This facility is extended to include immediate family members as well. Backed with the building society’s ‘dignity at work’ policies, its overall absence rate is below the CBI’s benchmark for financial service companies.
The ‘Touch’ programme running at Garlands Call Centres in Hartlepool also recognises that improving absence figures is not just about offering incentives for being at work, but about addressing the reasons for non-attendance. One aspect of the programme is to promote every employee’s ability to deal effectively with emotional and social issues.
Chief executive Chey Garland said: “This programme has been designed to give people real skills and experience to help them tackle problems at home and around them, to build confidence and develop communication skills.”
Kevin Friery, director of counselling at Right Corecare, says one of their NHS customers worked with the unions to provide extra support for domestic violence victims.
“Their approach is much more about education – how we help people not to become victims, and how we help potential perpetrators to develop better ways of coping with stress,” he says.
In recent years, the TUC has taken significant steps in addressing the problem of domestic violence, publishing the Domestic Violence Guide in November 2002, and their own research a year later.
Union representatives can now receive training to provide help and support to their colleagues in the workplace. This is a particularly useful resource for employers since some workers may be more likely to accept help from one of their peers, rather than their direct employer.
Domestic violence: A guide for the workplace costs £20 (£5 to TUC-affiliated unions) and is available from TUC Publications 0207 467 1294