The government has launched a review into the support available in the workplace, currently, for employees that suffer from domestic violence.
The consultation seeks evidence and information onto what is available for employees nowadays and what frameworks are in place to support them. It also tries to consider what support could be available in the future with matters such as reporting the abuse, financial assistance or even a source of emotional support.
As early as a few weeks into the UK's Lockdown, which started on 23 March 2020, the reports had already started coming out that London had seen a 25% increase in reports of domestic abuse cases. My colleague, Filomena who is a solicitor in the Family Law department wrote about it here.
In addition to this, it is understood that the organisation Refuge, the UK's largest single provider of specialist domestic abuse services, has experienced record highs in demand for its National Domestic Abuse Service Helpline as Government lockdown restrictions have eased. The total number of calls and contacts to Refuge's Helpline has been more than 40,000 since the start of lockdown (this figure includes numbers of women accessing a new 'live chat' service). During June, 73% of callers to Refuge's Helpline were from survivors of domestic abuse.
Sadly, during the same month Refuge's National Domestic Abuse Helpline website, where women experiencing domestic abuse can access support if they are unable to call, saw an increase of more than 800% compared to pre-lockdown statistics recorded.
There is very little doubt that those figures are worrying and staggering. It is just my guess, but - is it possible that this is part of what has prompted the Government's consultation? Whatever the case, it is a welcome thought for those who suffer from domestic abuse as, often, the victim's workplace is one of their only safe spaces away from their abuser.
With the staggering statistics that at least one in four women suffers from domestic abuse at some point, there is every likelihood that a lot of employers will have within their employee pool at least one person that is or was affected.
How can domestic violence affect businesses?
Besides the obvious interruption to the employee's life, which could lead quite neatly to an impact on their performance, there are other ways in which domestic violence could interrupt a workplace including the abuser hassling the employee during work hours using work telephone lines / emails etc or even hassling other employees for information on the victim.
What can employers do within existing framework to support employees who experience domestic abuse?
Even without any new legislation or regulations, there are so many things that employers can do to support their staff. More than that - it is encouraged for employers to support their staff where possible because, ultimately, employees that feel supported and respected in the workplace are more loyal and stay with the business for longer.
So, what things can businesses consider? Here are a few examples:
· Raise awareness within the business - this could range from having information available on the company's intranet (or equivalent) to having a policy or commitment to oppose all forms of domestic abuse or even offer training (in particular to those in managerial positions) on spotting signs of domestic abuse and how to handle that;
· Think about how the workforce can support one another - whilst managers can be given clear responsibilities on how to identify and deal with indicators that an employee may be experiencing domestic abuse, it may be useful to have somewhat of a buddy-system in the workplace even informally so that these early indicators can be identified sooner and dealt with in a supportive environment;
· Never EVER victim blame - we would strongly advise against taking on an investigatory role of looking into the incidents of domestic abuse that have been brought to the employer's attention or seeking evidence that they have actually taken place. Employers should have trust in their employees even to the extent that, when told of domestic abuse at home, they believe the employee and simply seek to support them as much as possible within an employer-employee relationship;
· Consider appropriate policies - in some work places, and certain situations, it may be appropriate to have a specific reporting policy for security or management. For example, if the perpetrator constantly calls the employee's telephone line, perhaps it is worth considering diverting the line or changing the individual's extension or if the abuser turns up at the workplace, to be able to discreetly report it to security and have the person removed from the premises; and
· Ensure provision and availability of support and resources - again this could be just having a list of available resources in a handy location at the workplace or perhaps even having a dedicated person(s) that can be contacted in these instances that are not line managers or HR personnel so the employees feel more comfortable raising their issues.
Most importantly, employees should be supported and not penalised for opening up about the existence of domestic abuse at home. It is important to remember that domestic abuse can take many forms - including emotional, financial or physical - and that it is not only women that can be victims of domestic abuse despite the prevalence - this means that men may also suffer from domestic violence, or those in same-sex or familial relationships.
Employers should have an open and inclusive workplace where employees feel safe enough to raise concerns and that will include about their personal lives, especially where those might impact their work environment.
We will be interested to see what the consultation from the Government yields, and we will continue to follow this. Anyone can submit their responses until the consultation closes on 9 September 2020.
For assistance with any Employment or Family Law issues, please contact us.
This is not legal advice; it is intended to provide information of general interest about current legal issues.