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Supporting employees vulnerable to domestic abuse

The end of November has seen a cumulation of domestic abuse and violence focused stats and reminders. The International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women on the 25th November saw the release of UK’s first comprehensive 10-year femicide census, which revealed harrowing figures, including that 62% of the deceased women were killed by their current partner or an ex, mostly in their own homes.

The authors of the femicide census have also discovered that in the first few weeks of lockdown earlier this year, domestic homicide rates were 3 times higher than usual. Related findings were confirmed by the Office for National Statistics, whose figures show that there has been a significant increase in domestic abuse since the imposition of COVID-19 restrictions; with domestic abuse accounting for one in five crimes in the four months since March. This is 7% more than the same period last year.

The 25th November was also the start of 16 Days of Action, a campaign aimed at employers, encouraging and supporting them to take action against domestic abuse and violence. Employers do have a duty of care to their employees; a legal responsibility to protect the health, safety and welfare of their employees and to do whatever is reasonably practicable to achieve this.

Despite this, the focus on employers setting themselves up to be able to help support employees who are vulnerable to domestic abuse is relatively new. For many employers, this means the issue has only just entered their periphery, and they will be unsure where to start. We have therefore considered the practical steps employers might take.

Employers do have a duty of care to their employees; a legal responsibility to protect the health, safety and welfare of their employees and to do whatever is reasonably practicable to achieve this.

Government consultation on domestic abuse

The Government launched a consultation over the summer, looking at how victims of domestic abuse can be given the support they need within the workplace. The ACAS Council response to this consultation included the following suggestions, which employers should take heed of:

  • Raise awareness within the workplace of domestic abuse issues to help destigmatise them, and consequently help workers feel able to speak up without fear of judgement or repercussions.
  • Put in place a robust domestic abuse policy, developed in consultation with employees or with trade union representatives where applicable. Make this accessible via different channels, to support those working from home, on long-term leave or on furlough.
  • Train workers and management on the signs and symptoms of domestic abuse, how to respond and where to seek further help. It may be worth having a select number of individuals trained as ‘initial points of contact’ for vulnerable workers to reach out to.
  • Have domestic abuse resources available and signpost to support agencies for both survivors and perpetrators.
  • Introduce confidential reporting channels and agree code words or hand signals for employees to use when they feel they are in immediate danger.
  • Use flexible working and special leave arrangements to support the wellbeing of individuals, including for instance in attending appointments.

If you need legal advice in relation to an employee who is either suffering from or perpetrating domestic violence, please contact our employment law team, who will be happy to help. You can also find further useful information from Business in the Community, who have created a Domestic Abuse Toolkit for employers, or from the CIPD website where you will find guidance on managing and supporting employees experiencing domestic abuse.

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This information is for guidance purposes only and should not be regarded as a substitute for taking legal advice. Please refer to the full General Notices on our website.

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