Covid: Domestic Abuse - Employer Awareness

An uncomfortable by-product of the Covid-19 pandemic and of the associated lockdown, has been the notable rise in reports of domestic abuse. One the most startling facts that has been revealed by this increase is just how much some individuals rely on the workplace as a haven or place of escape from an abusive relationship or environment.

It’s easy to explain why we’re hearing more about domestic abuse of course. With households forced to remain in their own company for extended periods, relationships become fraught and tensions build until they explode in an outburst of violence. For those situations we hear about, we should remember that there are many more that go unreported for fear of even greater violence.

As restrictions to abate the advancement of Covid are imposed upon us once again, and the prospect of a second national lockdown looms unnervingly toward us, employer might want to take some time to assess what the potential impact might be on their own workforce. Whilst it’s widely accepted that a high proportion of workers embrace the opportunity to work from home, we shouldn’t forget the many who exist in abusive relationships and who will be dreading the prospect of homeworking.

Employers may not feel that it is their responsibility to become involved in cases of domestic abuse, despite that effects that it may have on the individual, their performance or on co-workers. At HR Champions, we feel that it should fall under the heading of employee welfare and form part of the duty of care that organisations should hold for their staff. If the workplace is acting as a place of refuge for an abused individual, then, even unwittingly, the employer could be playing a vital role in that person’s wellbeing.

Businesses are not expected to take responsibility to resolve cases of domestic abuse but they should, in looking out for the welfare of their employees, notice the signs and signpost affected staff-members to relevant organisations and support groups. Ignoring or turning a blind eye when it’s evident that an issue exists, or is even suspected will almost certainly compound the effects of the abuse for the individual.
Countering the effects that domestic abuse might have in the workplace doesn’t have to be a huge, costly exercise and in fact there are some simple, quick wins that can be implemented by anyone:

  • Firstly, we need to recognise that there might be a problem.
    • Has behaviour changed?
    • Is an individual uncharacteristically late for work or has let their work standards drop?
    • In the current climate, an abuse victim may push or find reasons to be allowed to come into the workplace when others are working from home.
    • Is someone dressing differently or unsuitably for the time of year?
    • Abuse isn’t always physical so be aware of mental abuse too
  • If an employee discloses they are being abused then don’t doubt or question it; reassure them that they will be supported at work
  • Take whatever action you can that doesn’t risk worsening the issue. This may be changing how incoming phone calls or e-mails are managed so the abuser cannot access their victim whilst they are at work or are discouraged to try
  • Display posters or information for support groups of domestic abuse or have a list of organisations readily available
  • Remember that men can also be victims of domestic abuse and that it can occur in same sex relationships too

A domestic abuse workplace policy will be a good addition to your organisational documentation. It should define what domestic abuse is, the company’s approach to it and it should reassure victims that they will be supported and treated respectfully. Ensuring your managers are trained in how to deal with difficult conversations will help too.

We’re currently hard at work producing a new Domestic Abuse Workplace Policy which we’ll make available in out Toolkit section very soon. In the meantime if you require any support with handling a known or suspected instance of domestic abuse you can call us on 01452 331331 or e-mail This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.