Domestic violence against women seems to be depressingly widespread but a new scheme is calling on employers to help combat the effects of abuse, protect staff and cut the growing human and economic cost to business. Ross Wigham reports.
The stark cost is all too clear: one woman is killed every two days at the hands of a violent partner. Probably more surprising is the annual financial cost to the British economy, which currently stands at an estimated £3bn.
It may sound callus to talk about profit and loss on such a sensitive subject, but even low-level abuse can have a huge impact on workplaces, both through the victim and their concerned colleagues.
Once an employee starts suffering domestic abuse there is a knock-on effect for employers and just one case can have a devastating effect through absenteeism, reduced productivity, staff turnover and costly errors.
A group of corporate employers is now trying to make a difference by helping companies reduce the cost of abuse, taking the lead from a similar scheme in the US set up 10 years ago.
Led by health products retailer Body Shop, the Corporate Alliance against Domestic Violence also includes the BBC, AOL/Time Warner, KPMG, and the NHS. Collectively these organisations cover more than two million employees.
Christopher Davies, global campaigns manager at the Body Shop, said corporations should be developing policies that protect staff and reduce the huge emotional and economic costs.
“We believe employers should play a positive role. Businesses can have an incredibly positive impact on domestic violence. We’re developing some sample policies for employers and we’ve drawn up a template that businesses can use.
“We want to give companies the means to communicate with victims and let them know where they can go to get more help. We hope to establish a training day for managers to help them cope with the issues arising from domestic violence,” he said.
The group hopes to cover as many as three million staff by recruiting more employers and Davies thinks businesses have a moral obligation to workers and the wider community.
He dismissed the view that employers shouldn’t get involved in the issue and said even if they ignored the moral argument, they must take action to reduce the financial costs.
“Good employers should look after their staff but in purely economic terms it is a problem that is costing them money. Even if it is only through self-interest they should be doing something about it.
“HR is crucial in driving these ideas and making staff and managers aware of the problem and potential consequences,” Davies added.
The alliance has developed an online resource for employers, providing practical guidance on how to deal with domestic violence, how to support staff suffering abuse and where to report perpetrators.
The NHS is one of the scheme’s biggest supporters – it has more than 1.3 million staff – and head of workplace health, Julian Topping, hopes the alliance will help battle domestic violence on several fronts.
“Domestic violence is a hidden epidemic which has a huge impact on the NHS. Every day NHS organisations are affected by it as both the providers of care for those who are victims and as the employer of staff who suffer from its effects,” Topping said.
“As the largest employer in the UK this alliance presents us with the opportunity to make a difference to the lives of those who suffer every day. We will ensure that NHS organisations have the tools they need to tackle domestic violence head on,” he added.
Domestic violence – the employer perspective
56% of abused women arrive late for work at least five times a month
75% of victims are targeted at their workplace
53% of abused women miss at least three days of work a month
Once a victim leaves an abusive relationship they are particularly vulnerable while at work
Source: Home Office
Corporate Alliance against Domestic Violence: www.corporateallianceuk.com
Corporate Alliance to end Partner Violence (USA): www.caepv.org