Supporting employees affected by domestic abuse

5 October, 2018

There is a growing awareness of the prevalence of domestic abuse throughout society. Government statistics show that in the UK nearly 2 million adults experienced domestic abuse in the last year.  1 in 4 women, and 1 in 6 men, suffer from domestic abuse in their lifetime.

There is a developing understanding about the role which employers should play in supporting their employees who are affected by domestic violence and abusive relationships. Helping to prevent and tackle domestic abuse is increasingly recognised as a crucial aspect of an employer’s legal and moral responsibilities towards its staff, particularly its duties to provide a safe working environment, and its proper contribution towards society’s collective response to domestic abuse.

Employers also have a vested interest in helping to tackle the underlying issues which impact on the wellbeing and effectiveness of their staff. The estimated annual cost to businesses caused by domestic abuse is £1.9 billion, in terms of decreased productivity, time off work, lost wages and sick pay.

Toolkit for employers

In July, Business in the Community and Public Health England jointly published a domestic abuse toolkit, as part of its online framework of toolkits helping organisations to support the mental and physical health and wellbeing of their employees. The toolkit is designed to raise awareness in this area, to help break the silence and fear of stigma, and to provide employers with guidance on how they can best support those who are affected by domestic abuse.  It advocates three key actions:

  • Acknowledge: understand the issues and the employer’s responsibility to address domestic abuse; enable colleagues to discuss the subject openly, and provide a supportive workplace.
  • Respond: review policies and processes to ensure that the organisation is providing a supportive workplace and can respond to disclosure, for example through an Employee Assistance Provider (EAP).
  • Refer: provide access to organisations who can help employees affected by domestic abuse, such as local and national advice agencies.

Practical workplace support

The toolkit sets out a number of useful examples of how employers can practically support their employees who experience domestic abuse. These include:

  • agreeing protocols for dealing with telephone calls or visits by the abusive partner, such as diverting calls and emails or changing contact details
  • briefing reception and security staff as appropriate
  • checking that the employee has arrangements for travelling safely to and from home
  • updating emergency contact details and other personal information
  • offering a temporary or permanent change of workplace or working hours
  • agreeing special leave to facilitate practical arrangements such as meetings with advice agencies, meeting teachers at school and attending court
  • supporting health appointments such as counselling for the employee or their children, with flexibility around working hours to enable their attendance.

Future legislation?

In March 2018 the Government launched a major consultation on domestic abuse, intended to lead in due course to a Domestic Violence and Abuse Act which would introduce a range of new measures to help people affected by domestic abuse, from prevention to rehabilitation. This draft legislation is due to be introduced in Parliament this autumn.

There is pressure for the new legislation to include specific provisions in the sphere of employment law, and in particular to create a statutory right to paid leave for employees who are affected by domestic abuse.  These campaigns draw upon legislative changes which are being made in other countries.  For example, in July the New Zealand parliament enacted legislation which will allow employees up to 10 days’ paid leave for the purposes of leaving abusive partners, finding new accommodation and protecting themselves and their children. Some US states and Canadian provinces are adopting similar legislation.

Even if a right to paid leave is not implemented, an obvious change could be to widen the statutory entitlement to take time off for dependants, under which employees must be permitted reasonable time off during working hours to take necessary action in certain circumstances involving their dependent relatives.

Please contact our Employment team if you require any guidance or support on these issues. For updates from us and the latest employment news, please follow us on Twitter @CrippsEmpLaw