The workplace is often the only safe place for victims of domestic abuse.
Employers are legally bound to take reasonable care of the health, safety and wellbeing of its employees, both in respect of their physical and mental health, and are therefore required to take all steps which are reasonably possible in this regard in the context of the knowledge they either have or ought to have. Ensuring a safe work environment and protecting staff from domestic abuse is part and parcel of this requirement and an employer could be deemed to be in breach if it fails to do everything reasonable in the circumstances to make good on these aspects of its duty of care.
Those experiencing domestic abuse can lose their independence and find themselves isolated from friends and family. Around a third of an adult’s life is spent in work, giving employers an ideal opportunity to create a supportive workplace culture that can assist in identifying and resolving any issues.
The COVID-19 pandemic and related restrictions have led to more and more people working from home, meaning that for a victim of domestic abuse, time apart from their abuser is significantly reduced. This has sadly brought more challenges to those at risk and we have unfortunately seen a high increase in incidents and calls for help to the police and support lines.
But how does an employer identify a worker who may be the victim of domestic abuse if they are working at home? Injuries might not be evident to others in virtual meetings, especially if the employee has their settings on audio only as the abuser may be controlling interactions with colleagues.
Employers should keep in touch with employees who are working remotely. This should be done via regular phone calls and video calls to maintain face-to-face contact, so the victim knows their physical wellbeing is being checked on. If there is a risk of being overheard, it is vital that employers maintain contact through other means such as emails or text messaging.
The CIPD has recently published guidance for employers who are dealing with employees experiencing domestic abuse. The aim of the guidance is to encourage more employers to take an active supporting role. It also provides practical recommendations on how to do that. In addition to an effective support framework, the CIPD recommends that employers should have a clear policy in place for employees experiencing domestic abuse and their managers to refer to. Such a policy should be effectively communicated, regularly reviewed and related training should take place.
Through awareness, coordination, effective communication, sensitivity and empathy, employers can help some of its most vulnerable employees weather this particular aspect of the ongoing public health crisis.