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Guidance note on domestic violence policy

It is estimated that 1 in 4 women will experience domestic violence and abuse in their lifetime and on that basis, it is likely that at some point you will have employees who are subject to such abuse. It is not just women and children who will be the subject of domestic violence/abuse, men may be victims and it can apply as much to same sex relationships as heterosexual relationships.

There is often a knock on for businesses, with those subjected to abuse underperforming, being absent from work and in some cases, they may end up dismissed. Irrespective of any moral obligation an employer may feel, therefore, it also makes business sense to provide support for employees who find themselves in such a situation.

Types of domestic violence

Domestic violence and abuse can take many forms. For the purpose of this guidance note we refer to all these forms as "domestic abuse” but this can cover any or all of the following:

  • Physical abuse;
  • Emotional abuse;
  • Psychological abuse; and
  • Financial abuse.

It might take place within an intimate relationship but it may also take place between family members.

Creating a domestic violence policy

By having a policy in place, an organisation sends a clear message that it is committed to supporting its employees’ health and wellbeing and will support employees who experience domestic violence. Of course, given the statistics of those likely to experience domestic abuse at some point in their lives, it is also likely that an organisation will employ perpetrators of domestic abuse. By raising awareness via a policy, the organisation may help get the message across that domestic abuse is unacceptable and will not be condoned, but at the same time, may wish to offer support to perpetrators who wish to get help to change their behaviour. 

An employee who is experiencing domestic abuse may be reluctant to come forward and admit this. Having a policy may help encourage employees, or even their colleagues on their behalf, to come forward as it provides reassurance to employees that the organisation will support employees who are being subjected to domestic abuse.

There are a number of key messages that the policy should include. They are that:

  • Any disclosure, whether by an employee subject to abuse or a perpetrator wanting support, will be kept confidential (except where there is a risk to a child or vulnerable adult).
  • Where any employee who is subjected to such abuse comes forward, they will be believed, they will be treated sympathetically and that no-one is going to judge them or judge their decisions.

This is vitally important as it can often take an individual a long time to free themselves from domestic abuse. It is also important that the employee understands that support is available.

A line manager can play a significant role, not only by being alive to the potential signs of domestic abuse, but by being able to discuss with the employee (whether a victim of abuse or a perpetrator) what support is available. Often this will be a matter of referring the employee to the counselling services that the organisation may offer and also to external organisations who can assist. The line manager will not be expected, nor is likely to be qualified, to advise the employee as to what they should do. It is a matter of pointing the employee in the right direction, but also considering what other support the organisation may be able to offer. For example, time off for the employee to attend appointments with these outside organisations or, if the employee is subject to financial abuse, whether payroll can assist in terms of where the employee’s pay goes.

An organisation should also have regard to its health and safety obligations towards its employees. It may be that the person perpetrating domestic abuse against an organisation’s employee tries to contact the employee at work. This may be by telephone, email or by attending in person. An organisation needs to assess this risk, both in relation to the employee being abused and their colleagues also and steps may need to be taken, e.g. providing a parking space close to the entrance, changing the employee’s work telephone number, etc.

There are various external organisations that can provide advice and support to employees experiencing domestic abuse or those perpetrating it. We have included some in our policy but it makes sense for an organisation to also have a list of bodies that can provide assistance in the geographical area where the employer is based, these may be included in the policy or made available to any employee who approaches for support.

If you have any further queries regarding the employment law aspects of domestic abuse in the workplace, please contact your HR Rely advisor. We also run in-house training on managing sensitive situations which includes dealing with domestic abuse. Again, please contact your HR Rely advisor to find out more.

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