Domestic Abuse and Employer’s Duties – When Home Life Impacts The Workplace
As a UK employer, are you aware of the statistics for domestic abuse? The numbers indicate that, depending on the size of your organisation, you could likely have an employee involved in a domestic abuse situation.
Domestic abuse is said to affect one in four women, and one in six men in their lifetime. On average it leads to two women being murdered each week, and thirty men per year . Additionally, the number of domestic abuse crimes recorded by the police in England and Wales to the year ending March 2021 increased by 6% to 845,734.
Domestic abuse, including physical, sexual, psychological, emotional and financial abuse is, as things stand, clearly on the rise, not helped by the lockdown measures that were implemented in an attempt to curb the spread of Covid-19, as people were told to stay at home, without access to support services.
With awareness of this issue becoming more prevalent within society as a whole, there is a growing pressure on employers to also reflect this awareness and to help their staff, where possible, to spot the signs of domestic abuse.
So what are the impacts of domestic abuse upon employees in the workplace, and why is it so important for employers to assist where they can?
- Most importantly, your employees who are suffering from domestic abuse could be at risk of physical and psychological injury that could, in the worst case scenario, pose a threat to their lives.
- Employees subject to domestic abuse may suffer physical and psychological symptoms which could have an impact upon their presence in the workplace, and their performance such that their productivity is reduced.
- If an employee is suffering from domestic abuse, and it is impacting upon their behaviour in the workplace to the detriment of others, employers may find that they are spending time dealing with disciplinary, performance or capability matters.
- Additionally, in some circumstances, employees may in fact be harassed at work by their abuser either through calls, messages, or visits to the workplace itself. Not only therefore will the victim be impacted, but their colleagues may also become impacted either through shielding their fellow employee, covering their colleague's duties/work or in a worst case scenario, putting themselves at risk in the face of an abuser.
- Conversely, some employees experiencing domestic abuse may actually find the workplace to be a “safe space”, and become reliant upon their work and / or colleagues.
If an employer is able to spot the signs of abuse at an early stage, and enable that employee to get the right support, employers may be able to not only help that employee to get out of their situation, but will save time and costs going forwards in keeping the employee (and perhaps their colleagues) working, to enable the workplace to function smoothly and productively.
So what are my health and safety duties as an employer in light of domestic abuse?
Although there are no specific legal obligations placed upon employers as a result of domestic abuse itself, employers have the same health and safety responsibilities and duties to their employees wherever they are working, whether they are at home, or back in the workplace. Under the Health & Safety at Work Act 1974, employers have a duty to take reasonable care for the health and safety of their employees.
Additionally, under the Management of Health & Safety at work Regulations 1999, employers are obliged to conduct a suitable and sufficient risk assessment of hazards that may exist and impact upon an employee, and to identify preventative measures where they may apply.
In terms of domestic abuse therefore, where an employer knows (or perhaps even suspects) that there is a risk to one of their employees from domestic abuse, the first step would be to undertake a specific risk assessment for that employee and to put in place measures to reduce the risk to the employee as far as possible. Ideally, that risk assessment should be conducted with the employee to decide what steps can be taken with the support of the employer to reduce the risk as far as reasonably practicable.
Examples of steps to be taken could be:
- Putting in place a plan to ensure that the abuser cannot locate the employee;
- Assisting with an advance on pay / loan to enable the employee to get away from the abuser;
- Provide access to counselling or time to attend any professional appointments required to assist them with their situation;
- Put in place a system of communication with the employee at risk, which includes regular check-ins;
- Put in place any safety / security measures that may be required;
- Referring the employee to their GP where further advice and support is required;
- Provide details of support groups and networks available;
- If the employee is in immediate danger, call the police.
The physical and mental abuse suffered as a result of domestic abuse could lead to an employee suffering from long term physical and psychological injuries, which could lead to them being classed as disabled under the Equality Act 2010.
If this is the case, then an employer will be under a duty to make reasonable adjustments in the workplace for that employee such as changing their working hours, patterns or workload to assist with any recovery.
It is crucial that employees feel that by disclosing what is happening, that their disclosure is made on a confidential basis, that no assumptions will be made, and that their concerns have been taken seriously and the necessary support has been provided.
Keep a record of any discussions and protective / preventative measures that are being put in place, and keep the line of communication going with the employee to assist them where possible.
As an employer, what if we are made aware that an employee is a domestic abuser?
This is a difficult position for an employer to be in, not least because there is always the possibility that the allegations made against the employee being an abuser could be false.
Employers may want to have a clear domestic abuse strategy or policy in place highlighting that such behaviour will not be tolerated. The policy should include the option for disciplinary action, up to and including dismissal.
Records should be clearly kept detailing the reason for the disciplinary action, and an investigation into the allegations should be undertaken to ensure that a fair process has been followed.
So ahead of an issue actually occurring, what can employers do to spot the signs of domestic abuse / reduce the impact of domestic abuse within the workplace?
- The key has to be setting up a culture and organization that encourages employees to be open, and to feel confident that they can talk to their line managers / HR without fear of repercussions or breaches of confidentiality, and ensure that employees know who they can approach and speak to should they have any issues.
- Training for line managers / HR should include spotting the signs of potential abuse, teaching them how to deal with allegations of abuse sensitively and confidentially, and ensuring that employees feel able to seek assistance and support where required.
- Include domestic abuse in your health and safety practices and policies and highlight that you have a zero-tolerance approach to such an issue. The policy (either as a stand-alone policy or as part of your other health and safety practices and procedures) could set out the common signs of abuse, what the steps to be taken should someone suspect that domestic abuse involving one of your employees is taking place, and provide details of the advice and support that is available.
- Your business risk assessments could consider the potential for domestic abuse.
- You could also have a crisis management protocol in place if, for example, an employee is targeted at work by their abuser. Again, this could either be a stand-alone policy or part of your security policy.
- Raise awareness of the issue amongst staff by, for example, having in place signposts to support services in the toilets.
Should you have any concerns about how to protect your employees in light of such situations occurring, or have any other health and safety queries with respect to your duties as an employer to protect your employees in the face of domestic abuse, please do not hesitate to contact the team at Prettys.