What responsibility do companies have in dealing with domestic abuse?
Domestic abuse is topic that nobody wants to talk about. Not the victims most affected by it, most certainly not the perpetrators, and employers… well most don’t even know where to start. But the unfortunate reality is that domestic abuse is more prevalent than we think. With 1 in 4 women being affected, and 1 in 6 men being affected, it means it’s very likely there are people in the company being subject to abuse and needing support. Equally the reverse side of those statistics suggest that the company also employs people who are the perpetrators. Creating greater awareness around domestic abuse and what the possible indicators are can make a big impact.
Where to start?
By definition, in domestic abuse there is a personal connection between the victim and abuser. This could be a partner, spouse, parent or sibling. Physical or sexual abuse which are most commonly associated with domestic abuse don’t actually make up the largest portion of statistics. 85% of cases are psychological, verbal, emotional, or economic abuse, and it is estimated that the direct cost to the workplace is GBP2 billion per year. For the country the total economic cost in the UK exceeds GBP74 billion a year.
These are alarming figures and drives the point home as to why there needs to be more conversations about domestic abuse and more support structures in places of employment. It not only creates more awareness in the workplace, it also can have the effect of holding people to account for their actions. And where cases are going to court, keeping company records of incidents and impacts can provide valuable evidence to support a case.
Most companies have policies in place to deal with sexual misconduct in the workplace and even stalking – statistics show that 75% of these incidents are targeted at the workplace. But very few companies have policies relating to domestic abuse.
Domestic abuse is not discerning
There’s a perception, perhaps due to the influence of television programs, that domestic abuse is something that only happens in poorer levels of society. Realistically, no level of society is exempt. It happens across all income levels, all cultures and ethnicity. Roughly 2.4 million adults are impacted by domestic abuse every 12 months. What’s worse is that individuals take between 2 and 10 years to recover from domestic abuse. This highlights why ongoing support is needed, especially in the workplace.
If companies are genuinely invested in employee well-being, then having policies and process in place to address domestic abuse is vital. The statistics tell the reality that even if they aren’t aware of specific cases, no company is exempt from the likelihood that someone in their employee is dealing with domestic abuse in some form.
Abuse doesn’t always show up in the form of bruises. It could be that someone is consistently late for work with different excuses every time. There might even be the temptation to conduct a disciplinary for tardiness, but what if the situation stems from domestic abuse. What if the employee’s partner is the reason they’re last for work, because they hid the car keys, or took the car and the employee then has to take public transport.
What companies can do to help
Having a portal where employees can anonymously raise an issue is more likely to encourage them to speak up. Running training on how to recognise symptoms, abuse patterns or changes in behaviour can help managers be more sensitive to abuse situations.
Allocating budget to specialist support should be a consideration. Each case is different and this is not an area of expertise for HR so being able to refer employees to a counsellor that is paid for can make a big difference to the situation. Offering paid leave to deal with a domestic abuse situation is another way in which employers can provide support
Given how prolific it is, we all have a responsibility to help prevent it and provide support to those exposed to it. Making it a company policy that there’s zero-tolerance of it is a good starting point, but this needs to be backed up with policies, process and practice to be effective.
If you’d like to hear more about this topic, tune into a recording of a recent HRHuddle where we discuss the topic in more depth: Domestic abuse – is your workplace equipped to support your people?
For more information please contact Alice Bromwich of Peony & Magnolia HR on [email protected]
HRHuddle – Domestic Abuse – is your workplace equipped to support your people?
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