Domestic abuse and support in the workplace – what needs to change?
October 16, 2020
Support in the
workplace is critical for women experiencing domestic abuse, and for some it
can be a lifeline. This is especially pertinent at the moment when the COVID-19
pandemic means most employees are now working from home. For those living with
abusive partners, they might now find themselves trapped with their abuser for
significant periods of time and may find it more difficult to reach out for
advice and support.
abuse can exacerbate the economic and labour market inequalities that women
already face. When an unsafe or unsupportive workplace leads a woman to leave
the employment, there not only is a direct impact on her economic independence
and career, but for some the risk of falling into poverty increases. And in a
society where women already experience barriers to employment, the likelihood
of precarious and unstable work, and increased risk of poverty, it is crucial
that they do not have to choose between safety and earning an income.
a workplace domestic abuse policy is a start, it is not the all-end solution. Recently,
the UK Government asked for views on how to improve support in the workplace
for survivors of domestic abuse, and we, along with the women we support, have responded
to this consultation. In this blog we discuss some of our concerns and our main
exists (or not) in the workplace?
In writing our
response, we asked for the views of three women who had experienced domestic
abuse and then reported this to their employers. It emerged that there was a lack
of consistency between the responses of their employers —each woman received varying levels of support. Alongside
the inconsistencies, their experiences raised the following issues:
to disclosure: one of the key concerns is the mechanisms that employers put
in place (or not) to give women the confidence to safely disclose the abuse.
One of the women we supported mentioned that the prospect of disclosing the
abuse to Human Resources or to an unknown member of staff can be daunting,
something that, in turn, can affect the survivor’s ability or decision to
- Lack of domestic
abuse training: when victims/survivors decide to disclose, they often do so
to a manager. However, often managers are not equipped to handle the disclosure.
Deciding to talk about the abuse can be an incredibly difficult step that
should never be taken lightly. And a poor response can leave the survivor
feeling like she wasn’t believed or that her concerns were not taken seriously.
measures: security measures put in place by an employer can make a huge
difference in making the victim/survivor feel supported, safe and able to
continue her work. For example, one of the women we spoke to said that her
employer created a commuting plan so she could feel safe in her journey into
support: the women we have supported highlighted that employers don’t understand
the practical implications of living with domestic abuse. For example, a person
may need extra time off in order to attend court or to access support services.
The changes we want to
When survivors feel supported and
listened to, they are in a better position to make decisions about their
situation and plan next steps. We believe that the recommendations we have made
can contribute to creating the supportive workplaces that women with experiences
of domestic abuse need:
- Workplace legislation must be implemented: this will place obligations upon employers to
have policies and procedures in place to handle disclosures of domestic abuse
and support survivors. In addition, any changes in legislation need to be
published alongside guidance written with input from specialist agencies. This way,
when a person discloses domestic abuse, employers and colleagues will have the
tools to respond in a sensitive manner.
- The Scottish Government should issue recommendations and encourage best
the lead of a scheme in Northumbria, private employers should have nominated, trained
domestic abuse ‘employee champions’ that other employees can easily disclose
abuse to. In Scotland the Equally
Safe at Work toolkit (developed by Close the Gap) is already a starting
point. The toolkit
includes guidance on how to identify abuse/violence, responding to disclosures,
how to facilitate a conversation, safety considerations, signposting to support
services and managing perpetrators of abuse.
- Implementing a ‘safe leave’ policy: although some employers who provide
compassionate leave expect employees to use this to cover domestic abuse, in
many cases compassionate leave is discretionary and not all employees will know
that they can use when they are experiencing domestic abuse. Workplace
legislation should explicitly give employees the right to take a set period of
paid ‘safe leave’, as already implemented by North Ayrshire Council. This would
allow survivors to have time off when they are experiencing domestic abuse or
they are living through the aftermath of such a relationship.
- Funding: there should be funding available to small employers and sole traders
to cover the costs of domestic abuse training and paid leave for employees
living with abuse.
When a woman experiences abuse, the impact can
reach all areas of her life, including the workplace. This is why it is essential that
workplaces have a consistent and effective approach to supporting employees who
are living with abuse. We believe this can be achieved through legislation
written for that purpose, and our hope is that our recommendations are a step
in the right direction.
You can read our consultation