Over three-quarters of workers 'unaware' of employer domestic abuse policy

Lucy Harley-McKeown
·3-min read
Upset mixed race woman suffering from bullying, discrimination, excluded girl having problem with bad friends, feeling offended and hurt, sitting alone in cafe, avoiding people, social outcast
Calls to domestic abuse hotlines surged during lockdown. Photo: Getty

The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) and Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) is calling for action in the workplace on awareness of domestic abuse policy, as a survey found that more than three-quarters (76%) of employees are unaware of employers’ support measures.

As calls from individuals to domestic abuse hotlines have surged during lockdown, the CIPD and EHRC are publishing new guidance for employers on how to support staff suffering from domestic abuse.

The organisations said that employers can begin by having a well-publicised policy and framework of support in place and proactively making staff aware of the help that is available.

As people continue to follow guidance to work from home, while the government and public health officials grapple with how to deal with the spread of the coronavirus, escape routes or time apart from an abuser may be dramatically curtailed.

As a result, employers need to further consider the support they can offer to anyone experiencing domestic abuse, according to CIPD and EHRC.

Claire McCartney, senior policy adviser at the CIPD, said: “There is evidence that incidences of domestic abuse have increased as a result of the pandemic and related restrictions, which have seen many more people working from home. It’s important that employers are knowledgeable about this issue as they are ideally placed to offer a lifeline to those experiencing it.

“Employers should have a clear policy in place to support employees experiencing domestic abuse, be able to signpost them to professional support and offer the flexibility required to be able to access that support.

“It is therefore essential that line managers are trained in how to effectively support people in the workplace and signpost them to that professional help, and most importantly, to deal with it in a non-judgmental and empathetic way.”

The organisations are not asking employers to “solve” the problem, but to enable employees to access professional support if they need it.

The guide, published on Tuesday, sets out a four-step framework, including recognising the problem, responding appropriately to disclosure, providing support and referring to appropriate help.

READ MORE: Coronavirus: Charity says domestic abuse calls are up 25% since lockdown

Caroline Waters, interim chair of the EHRC said: “For some the workplace is more than just an office, colleagues and a pay cheque, it can be a sanctuary from abuse at home or a safe place to turn to for support.

“Our lives and workplaces have changed dramatically as a result of the pandemic, but a darker side has been the limited opportunities for those experiencing domestic abuse to reach out and ask for help,” Waters continued.

“We want employers to be aware of how to spot the signs of domestic abuse – whether their employees are in the office or working from home – and be able to offer appropriate support.

“We know that employers aren’t going to be able to prevent domestic abuse from occurring, but by following the four steps outlined in this guidance, they will be able to provide a supportive workplace for staff.”

READ MORE: Why financial abuse is domestic violence

The guide emphasises creating open work cultures, where people feel safe to talk about their issues, while offering flexibility for people to attend counselling, legal and finance appointments or access support from professional organisations.

CIPD and EHRC are also backing UN Women’s call for more employers to offer 10 days of paid leave to anyone experiencing domestic abuse, which could go a long way to supporting an individual if they are struggling to do their work or need to access essential services.