Last reviewed 14 January 2021

Following the publication of the Government’s final report from its Review into Workplace Support for Victims of Domestic Abuse, Business Minister Paul Scully has written an open letter to employers offering guidance on how they can support survivors.

In his letter, available at GOV.UK¸ he emphasises that he is not asking employers to become specialists in handling domestic abuse, nor for colleagues to take on the role of healthcare workers or counsellors.

However, Mr Scully points out, colleagues and managers can often be the only people outside the home that survivors talk to each day and they are therefore uniquely placed to help spot signs of abuse.

These could include an individual becoming more withdrawn than usual, sudden drops in performance or mentioning controlling behaviours in their partner.

Few employers are aware of these signs of domestic abuse, the Business Minister goes on, and an even smaller number have a clear policy in place to support those suffering domestic abuse.

How employers can help

  • Raise awareness: this could be through simply listening to concerns, helping employees to access support or referring the issue to the right contacts in the organisation.

  • Keep things simple: help does not imply the efforts of large senior teams or HR functions, Mr Scully argues, but simple, practical steps such as promoting or downloading the Bright Sky App) which provides a service directory for those facing domestic abuse.

  • Be inclusive: senior leaders in the organisation should look to foster an environment where all workers feel comfortable “being themselves” and talking openly, allowing colleagues to feel able to open up.

  • Ask what help is needed: those being abused may need time, space and privacy to make calls and arrangements; they may need their salaries paid into a dedicated bank account; they may need flexibility around working hours and patterns. The best way to find out what would help them most is to ask, and be receptive to their replies.

  • Advertise support: help for survivors should be made clear, whether in an employee handbook or on bulletin boards, so that everyone is aware of the support available. Something as simple as displaying an informative poster, translated into different languages for maximum inclusivity, can make a difference, Mr Scully points out.

  • Involve experts: employers should not hesitate to bring in or speak with specialists who can advise on handling sensitive situations and help staff access existing pathways to specialist support.

  • Use the free help available: there is a range of excellent free guidance for both employers and employees to support domestic abuse survivors in the workplace, including the Employers Initiative on Domestic Abuse and SafeLives.

Mr Scully concluded that he was planning to consult on the steps that can be taken so those being abused can better exercise their existing employment rights, such as the right to request flexible working.

Comment by Kate Palmer, HR Advice and Consultancy Director at Peninsula

We may now begin to see a lot more employers creating, reviewing and putting their policies on domestic abuse firmly into practice, especially as it is evident that this move is backed by the Government. Employers taking a more hands-on approach to this issue will likely be encouraged to continue, and others who have not been able to pay close attention to these issues, due to the pandemic, may now be prompted into action both for the sake of their employees and their business as a whole.