Supporting victims and survivors of domestic abuse in the workplace
According to the Office for National Statistics, the number of Police recorded domestic abuse related crimes in England and Wales for the year ending March 21 was 845,734. It is also estimated 1 in 4 women and 1 in 6 men will in their lifetime experience at least one instance of domestic abuse.
It is therefore very likely as an employer that you will have members of staff who are a survivor of or who will suffer domestic abuse at some point during their employment. Sometimes these situations can spill over into the workplace and need to be dealt with urgently. We have advised clients on this issue recently including a business with an employee who was the victim of stalking in the workplace by a former partner.
What can and should employers do to help and support employees who might be experiencing domestic abuse now or to help protect them in the future or for those that have suffered abuse in the past?
We know from looking at the ONS figures that during the pandemic, instances of domestic abuse rose because people were confined to home and unable to get help or support from their family, friends or colleagues. Ongoing working from home arrangements might negatively impact on some employees who might be trapped with an abusive partner.
Despite this, there are no specific legal obligations for employers, although there is some relevant legislation. Under The Health & Safety at Work Act 1974 employers have a duty to take ‘reasonable care of the health & safety of employees’. For employees working from home a risk assessment could be designed to help to identify domestic abuse risks.
Other legislation such as the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 oblige employers to carry out a risk assessment and identify preventative measures. This applies to employees who will be working from home as well as those in the workplace.
It also isn’t uncommon for victims to suffer from harassment while they are at work. As in the recent case we dealt with, excessive visits to the workplace and/or excessive calls can all be disruptive. Other employees might also put themselves at risk, for example having to take messages from or deal face to face with an unwanted visitor.
All employers can help by looking for signs of domestic abuse and ensuring that staff feel supported to ask for help and to highlight where it can be found. The signs of abuse might not always be physical. Employees could have hidden mental scars which manifest in stress or a lack of sleep, which leads to issues around poor performance, higher rates of absenteeism or just general issues with an employee who is reluctant
Employers that don’t act could find an employee could make a claim against them. For example, if an employee’s abuse has severely affected their ability to carry out their regular day-to-day work duties, then this might meet the definition of a disability and they could make a claim under the Equality Act 2010, where an employer hasn’t made reasonable adjustments.
An employee with over two years’ service could possibly bring a claim for constructive dismissal if they resigned because the employer has or was likely to breach the implied term of mutual trust and confidence – ie if the employer didn’t adequately support them.
Where a victim and their abuser also work together, there could be claims under the Equality Act 2010 for harassment relating to a protected characteristic or under the Protection from Harassment Act 1997.
Having a clear domestic abuse policy, a strategy to deal with any instances of abuse that crosses over into the workplace and updated disciplinary procedures is therefore important.
Managers should be given training to help them to identify and deal with the issues around domestic abuse as per your workplace policies. You can also help to raise general employee awareness around the issues and the support that is available from specialist external organisations as well as from the business.
If you would like advice about reviewing and updating your workplace policies and procedures, get in touch today.