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Domestic abuse: how employers can help

On Tuesday 25th November 2014 Public Health England (PHE) begins its 16 Days of Action campaign. As part of this initiative PHE has developed, in conjunction with the Corporate Alliance Against Domestic Violence (CAADV) a ‘toolkit’ for businesses to help spot employees who may be suffering from domestic abuse in silence.

The 16 Days campaign reminds us that one in four women and one in six men will experience domestic abuse at some point in their lifetime, with women being more likely to suffer chronic abuse before seeking help. And, while the workplace can act as a refuge of sorts for victims, being a place away from the home, 75 percent of those experiencing domestic abuse are targeted at work, for example via phone calls and emails. The workplace is, of course, a place where someone can be easily found.

The toolkit briefs business owners on their responsibility to look out for signs of abuse among their employees and, if possible, act accordingly. Employers are obliged to protect employees from bullying and harassment under their duty of care, and domestic abuse, according to the initiative, falls under this remit.

In the first instance, employers and managers are advised to keep an eye out for any changes in employees’ behaviour or work performance, unusual choices of dress – long sleeves in warm weather – or a sudden change in the amount of make-up worn that may hide signs of violence. The toolkit suggests that managers may need to arrange for an abused employee’s calls or emails to be diverted, or to agree among colleagues a course of action should their partner attempt to access the workplace. Keeping a record of any incidents in the workplace may also be beneficial.

This is a timely reminder that not only is domestic abuse one of the most serious social issues of our times, it also costs the British economy an estimated £5.5 billion annually. More specifically, PHE puts the impact on economic output from the workplace at £1.9 billion, with the remaining, staggering amounts stacking up when the cost of physical and mental health, criminal justice and housing and refuge services are factored into the equation.

The 16 Days initiative recognises that different companies will have different requirements for guidance, depending on the size and structure of the business. It offers specific suggestions for small and medium sized enterprises (often referred to as SMEs) as well as advice that can apply equally to large businesses.

Director of Health and Wellbeing at Public Health England, Professor Kevin Fenton, said: “Workplaces are a safe space for many people living in violence and are key for providing opportunities for disclosure and support into safety. As it stands, companies can do more to support their employees who experience domestic abuse, train those who witness, and protect staff as a whole".

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