Last reviewed 11 June 2020

A number of UK organisations have announced their intention to introduce domestic violence leave, or “‘safe” leave, for those in their workforce who are subjected to abuse in their personal lives. While not strictly a workplace matter, employers are increasingly recognising that suffering trauma outside of the office can have a real, and often significant, impact on their employee’s professional lives.

South Ayrshire Council in Scotland was believed to become the first council in Europe to offer employees up to 10 days’ paid safe leave for those who had suffered domestic abuse. More recently, the telecommunication company Vodafone has announced the introduction of 10 days’ paid leave for all workers in their global business. Alongside time off, the organisation will also provide access to specialist support for employees who have experienced domestic violence and specialist training for managers.

The law

Currently, there is no UK law that provides an entitlement to paid time off for those suffering domestic violence or abuse. During the 2018 annual Labour conference, the party announced it would introduce a right to paid leave for employees facing abuse or violence. In July 2018, New Zealand enacted new legislation creating a statutory right to 10 days’ paid leave for all employees. As provided by the law, the leave can be used for the purposes of protecting the individual and any children, finding a new home or leaving the perpetrator. Other countries that have similar provisions include the Philippines, Australia and Canada.

In June 2020, the Government launched a review into how victims of domestic abuse could be better supported by their employers. Ideas suggested include:

  • paying wages into a different bank account on request of the employee

  • emergency salary payments

  • the provision of unpaid leave.

Organisational leave

Although there is no statutory requirement to provide domestic violence leave, it is clear that more organisations are considering the introduction of additional leave to provide necessary support for employees. As well as providing time off work for health reasons after suffering domestic violence or abuse, those organisations offering this leave are recognising that additional time may be needed to make other arrangements, such as accommodation, childcare or seeking protection. It is key that organisations that introduce this leave understand that time off will be available to all members of staff. For example, it should not be assumed that domestic violence victims are female, those who are married or those with visible signs of abuse.

Domestic leave policy

Having a domestic or safe leave policy will ensure those who are suffering from abuse in their personal lives are provided with resources and time off work when appropriate. This prevents the employee being left with a choice of using up their holiday leave entitlement or using sick leave for this period, the use of which will subsequently be managed under the organisation’s absence management policy should their cumulated sick leave reach a certain level. Having the ability to take such time off work, with the support and understanding of the organisation, also prevents ”presenteeism” where an employee attends work while not physically or mentally well. This type of leave does require a certain degree of trust and proper management because it is likely to be difficult to request evidence that an employee has suffered domestic abuse, in contrast to the requirement to self-certify or provide medical evidence for periods of sick leave. The provision of time off will likely see the positive impact on employees going forwards, while preventing longer periods of absence or recurring absence as sufficient time is provided initially to make any necessary arrangements.

When looking to introduce domestic violence leave, organisations will need to review a number of considerations regarding how the scheme will apply in practice. For example, the amount of time off for safe leave will need to determined. Although 10 days is generally seen as a benchmark, organisations may wish to provide more or less leave, while deciding whether this applies during the course of employment or is a set number of days leave in each leave year. Similarly, although most are providing paid leave there is currently no legal requirement on an employer to pay for this leave so it may choose to pay full pay, a certain level of pay, pay for a specific number of days, or provide unpaid leave.

Implementing a policy on domestic violence leave is a straightforward method of communicating and managing this type of leave. A key part of the policy will be outlining what the organisation believes is considered domestic abuse or violence and, therefore, in what circumstances the right to take leave can be exercised. Generally, a non-exhaustive list of circumstances will be appropriate with management discretion to be exercised where an incident falls outside of this list. The policy can also address other matters, such as the method for notifying line managers of time off work for this matter, the confidentiality provisions that will apply to leave and any processes for returning the employee to work at the conclusion of the leave.

Management training

With this issue being extremely sensitive, management training on the operation of this scheme will be essential to ensure this matter is handled in an appropriate manner. For example, it is key that managers do not believe the leave is only open to female employees, as all employees may be victims of domestic violence. Other areas that will need to be addressed include confidentiality, recording the leave and payroll matters. All people managers should, as a starting point, have received training on how to undertake difficult conversations to recognise the importance of communicating sensitively and appropriately in circumstances such as these.

Organisational support

For organisations which are not in a position to provide this type of leave, or those that do and wish to go further, they can take steps to publicise any existing internal and external support to reiterate the help that is available to employees facing this situation. Internal support may include an Employee Assistance Programme, or EAP, where confidential counselling is offered to employees as a staff benefit, access to private medical benefits or financial support. External support that can be highlighted includes contact details for counselling or support groups, access to information on websites and domestic violence charities.