Domestic abuse and the workplace

Noella Gooden

Article written by Noella Gooden, Employment Solicitor (Australian qualified)

Domestic abuse is something that may not be talked about often in the workplace. However, this does not necessarily mean that it has no impact on staff and performance. Whilst domestic abuse is something that may primarily occur in the home, the consequences for victims may have far-reaching impacts on their physical and mental health. This in turn may impact them in the workplace. Victims of domestic abuse may experience changes in behaviour at work, a decline in performance and/or productivity, high levels of absenteeism, or persistent lateness. In line with trends from previous years, the number of domestic abuse crimes recorded by the police in England and Wales in the year ending March 2021 rose by 6% according to the Office for National Statistics. This reflects the upwards trend that has been seen over previous years.

What legislation is relevant?

The Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 provides that an employer has a “duty to ensure, as far as reasonably practicable the health, safety and welfare at work of all of his employees”.  ACAS is clear that an employer has a duty of care to their employees and should:

  • Look out for signs of domestic abuse;
  • Respond appropriately;
  • Support someone who is experiencing domestic abuse; and
  • Keep a record of incidents at work and when employees report domestic abuse, and any actions taken

What can an employer do to support an employee who discloses that they are a victim of domestic abuse?

Employers should create an environment in which mangers are alert to signs of domestic abuse and be responsive to any disclosures made by employees. Employees should be encouraged to report the abuse and there should be systems in place to allow this to occur. Employees who make a disclosure should be treated in a supportive manner. ACAS recommends that employers consider having a domestic abuse policy.

Employers should be mindful that employees who could be affected are not just those who are presently experiencing abuse, but support may also be needed for people who were previously victims of domestic violence and abuse, and secondary victims of domestic violence and abuse.

Best practice of employers to support employees could include the following:

  • Create a policy setting out the support that will be provided by an employer;
  • Managers and HR should have appropriate training, be available and approachable, and respond to the employee who has made the disclosure in a sensitive and non-judgemental manner;
  • Managers and HR should be trained to be able to signpost the employee to relevant domestic abuse helplines;
  • Consider whether a risk assessment (for the health and safety of the staff member) should be carried out;
  • Consider any issues in relation to confidentiality and information sharing (in general the employee should have a right to privacy, however, in some unusual circumstances the employer may not be able to guarantee complete confidentiality e.g. where there is a health and safety issue and it is absolutely necessary to share information);
  • Take into account the employee’s situation in the context of performance management;
  • Allow special paid or unpaid leave for court appearances, residence move, or other relevant events;
  • Allow an advance on pay to help an employee with an unforeseen situation related to the domestic abuse;
  • Allow the employee where possible to change working patterns, workload and location when needed;
  • Duly consider any flexible working requests made by the employee;
  • Provide a private space for the employee to make phone calls to lawyers, police or helplines;
  • Check that the employee has arrangements for getting safely to and from home; and
  • Signpost the employee to sources of support and any Employee Assistance Programme.

With current hybrid working arrangements seeing more employees working from home, employers should be particularly alert to signs of domestic abuse and respond appropriately. Where victims of domestic abuse are working from home, they may have lost a ‘safe space’ i.e. their workplace, that was previously available to them. Further, the perpetrator of the abuse may also be able to listen in to their work calls.  Where employees are working from home, employers should consider other measures including:

  • Agreeing on a safe mode of communication which the employee can use if needed (e.g. text message);
  • Ensuring that there are daily ‘check-ins’ with the employee; and
  • Measures that will assist employees to communicate working from home, e.g. hand signals or code words.

The circumstances for each employee will be different, so it is important that measures are discussed and developed in consultation with the affected employee.

If you would like to discuss any of these matters further, prepare a domestic abuse policy or create a risk assessment, please feel free to email me or contact the Employment Law team on 020 8858 6971.