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The Sarah Buxton blog


Domestic abuse in the workplace: what are your responsibilities?

I talk a lot about the importance of employee wellbeing, and I always emphasise how nuanced and multifaceted an issue this can be. It’s a broad-brush term that encapsulates happiness, physical and mental health, and comfort - and many of its associated issues can cross the boundaries between personal and professional lives.

Wellbeing at work is often affected by issues that start at home, ones which are impossible to leave behind at 9 am on a Monday. This is especially true of the topic I’m focusing on today: domestic abuse.

This term doesn’t just refer to physical violence; it can be emotional, financial, or psychological too. Any consistent coercive, threatening, or violent behaviour is domestic abuse, and no matter what form it takes, it can be an extremely traumatising experience for the individual involved.

If an employee is experiencing domestic abuse, their workplace may be one of the only places they can get distance from their abuser. Therefore, it’s your responsibility as an employer to spot the signs and ensure you have policies in place to support any members of staff who may be affected.

Abuse is a sensitive and personal issue, but one which often has an unavoidable impact on work-life too. In fact, it costs businesses £1.9 billion a year due to low productivity, absenteeism, lost wages, and sick pay. So, as an employer, what can you do to support the wellbeing of staff members dealing with domestic abuse?[1]

You have a responsibility to learn about domestic abuse. What does it look like if an employee is experiencing emotional, financial, or physical abuse? How might their behaviour change? Which patterns should you look out for, and how should you approach them if you suspect they’re experiencing abuse?

Thorough training from a reputable provider, such as Women's Aid, will help answer all of these questions and give you the information you need to spot the early indicators of abuse. Your whole team should receive this training, as the more educated your staff are, the less likely warning signs will go unnoticed.

If you don’t already, you should create a domestic abuse policy to support your employees. It should outline how you will initially spot the problem, the steps you’ll take if an employer discloses information about their abuse, how you will support them, and if you might refer them to receive specialist support.

Crucially, all your employees should be aware of this workplace policy. If they know support is there, they may be more inclined to come forward and speak out about their abuse, which could end the cycle.

As with many wellbeing issues involving heightened emotions and complex relationships, domestic abuse is a topic you should approach delicately. You must have robust, well-thought-out policies to protect your employees and practice.

I can help you shape your policies and advise the best approach for this topic with employees you believe might be affected. Contact me to set up a call.

[1] S.Walby, The Cost of Domestic Violence 2009

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