‘Employers have a duty to spot early signs of domestic abuse’

Business Minister Paul Scully has today issued a rallying call to employers across the country to take some simple steps to ensure their organisation is spotting signs of domestic abuse and helping their staff find the right support.

In an open letter to all UK employers, the Business Minister has outlined a few key, practical steps they can take to build awareness of domestic abuse, ensure they are noticing warning signs, and help workers access the support they need.

Warning signs for domestic abuse include changes in a person’s behaviour, a sudden drop in performance, mentions of controlling or coercive behaviour in partners, or physical signs such as bruising.

Business Minister Paul Scully said: “For too long, a lack of awareness and stigma around speaking about domestic abuse has stopped workplaces from putting in place the kind of help that survivors so desperately need. I know from personal experience that both bosses and colleagues are in a unique position to help spot the signs of domestic abuse and ensure survivors get the support they need so they no longer have to suffer in silence. That doesn’t mean making employers into counsellors or healthcare workers, but the actions I’ve outlined today – which can be as simple as providing a safe space to talk – can have a life-changing impact on survivors.”

The open letter comes as the government publishes the final report from its Review into Workplace Support for Victims of Domestic Abuse, which was launched in June to collect evidence on what more both the government and employers can do to try and tackle all forms of domestic abuse.

In light of the findings of the report, Business Minister Paul Scully today announced plans to consult on the steps that can be taken so survivors can better exercise their existing employment rights, such as the right to request flexible working.

The government will also establish a working group including employers, representatives of domestic abuse victims and trade unions to convene regularly to establish practical solutions that employers can implement in the workplace, and to measure their impact on supporting survivors.

A lack of awareness of warning signs, stigma around talking about domestic abuse in the workplace, and a lack of knowledge about specialist services is preventing domestic abuse survivors getting the help they need in the workplace, the report found.

Industry reaction

Elizabeth Filkin CBE, Chair of The Employer’s Initiative on Domestic Abuse, said: “The coronavirus has thrown not only domestic abuse into the spotlight, but the role of employers in tackling it. We have seen critical activity from our employer members to support their staff working at home who face domestic abuse, as well as a sharp rise in enquiries from businesses wanting help and guidance to put this support in place. Business is taking action but cannot do it alone.

“The government’s commitment through the Review into Workplace Support for Victims of Domestic Abuse is welcome and timely. Only through greater awareness among employers and staff of the damage done by domestic abuse and sharing employer best practice can we make a systemic change to the way domestic abuse is thought about and handled in the UK.”

Helen Lamprell, General Counsel and External Affairs Director, Vodafone UK said: “At Vodafone, we know we have a duty to help employees if they are facing domestic abuse. This is why we offer specialist training to HR and line managers; and our global domestic abuse policy provides support for employees affected by abuse, including counselling and additional paid leave.

“In partnership with Hestia, Vodafone Foundation created the Bright Sky app, which gives those experiencing domestic abuse access to local help and information; and our domestic abuse toolkit is a resource to help other employers implement a domestic abuse policy. We also encourage employers to work with organisations such as EIDA – by sharing best practice, we will better support those suffering domestic violence.”