Toolkit seeks to help employers support domestic abuse victims

Business in the Community (BITC) and Public Health England have released a toolkit which they hope will equip employers with the skills to identify and help victims of domestic abuse.

Domestic abuse is estimated to cost employers around £1.9bn every year in decreased productivity, time off work, lost wages and sick pay, with an estimated 1.9 million people experiencing such abuse in the last year, according to the Office for National Statistics.

Yet, historically, it has been something employers have often shied away from getting involved in, as well as something employees often feel reluctant to speak to their employer about anyway. And this trend appears to be getting worse, BITC pointed out.

It cited research conducted by Durham University for The Vodafone Foundation which suggested that, on average, employers reported one fewer disclosure about domestic abuse from employees in the past year compared with the year before. This indicated that, if anything, employees were feeling less, not more, confident about coming forward and seeking help and support from their employers, argued BITC.

The Domestic abuse: a toolkit for employers document details three key actions employers can take to help victims:

  1. Acknowledge – employers should understand the issues and acknowledge their responsibility to help address domestic abuse. They should enable staff to openly discuss the topic and provide support;
  2. Respond – they should review policies and processes so they are able to respond to a domestic abuse claim supportively; and,
  3. Refer – they should provide access to organisations that can help affected employees.

Louise Aston, wellbeing director at BITC, said: “Domestic abuse is in the foothills, although it’s gaining visibility with the government’s new Domestic Abuse Bill, it doesn’t feature as a topic for many employers yet.

“There are parallels with where we were with mental health a decade ago, and mental health in terms of stigma and shame. I hope that this toolkit will fuel debate about domestic abuse, touches all employers and that they have a duty of care and a legal responsibility ensure that the workplace is a safe and supportive to disclose.”

The toolkit encourages employers to look out for the various signs of domestic abuse, including frequent absence or lateness, reduced quality or quantity of work, being secretive about their home life, visible bruising, a change in the amount of make-up worn and isolation from their colleagues.

But employers also needed to be aware of different cultural and social factors. For example, people from different cultural backgrounds might experience abuse in different forms – such as “honour” violence – and lesbian, gay and bisexual men and women might be vulnerable to abusers who threaten to “out” them to colleagues, friends and family.

Minister for crime, safeguarding and vulnerability Victoria Atkins said: “Domestic abuse is an appalling crime that affects people in all professions.

“Employers have a crucial role to play in helping staff who are victims of domestic abuse. That is why this toolkit is so valuable, as it provides employers with simple steps they can take to raise awareness and support their colleagues.”

“Through initiatives like this as well as through government action including the Domestic Abuse Bill, we can transform society’s response and properly tackle these awful crimes.”

Draft legislation to provide better safeguards for victims of domestic abuse is due to be debated in the autumn.

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