COVID-19 lockdown has created different opportunities and threats for individuals in lockdown, and one of the most worrying is the rise in domestic violence. Already an issue before the country was forced into lockdown (the gov.uk website cites 2.4million victims of domestic abuse a year between the ages of 16-74), the enforced isolation led to vulnerable families being forced to spend time in the equivalent of a pressure cooker. In a press release for Refuge, the Domestic Abuse charity, it noted a rise of 50% in calls to the helpline, and 300%+ increased website traffic. The Domestic Abuse Bill, which has been on the Government agenda since January 2019, has been re-introduced and now awaits its second reading in the House of Lords. But what can employers do now to help protect employees, particularly as working from home appears to be here to stay?
CIPD and EHRC released guidance on 29 September 2020 for employers which helps to answer that question. It encourages employers to recognise that, whilst they cannot solve the issue, they can enable employees to access professional support. The guidance makes a series of recommendations, which include (amongst others):
- Developing a domestic abuse policy and framework for support;
- Treat everyone as an individual and not make assumptions about what people are experiencing;
- Creating an open culture to break the silence around the topic; and
- Signposts to supportive services, charities and organisations, and outline the type of support people may need.
Although not necessarily considered to be a workplace issue, the guidance highlights that domestic abuse has an impact at work, and 75% of those who endure domestic abuse are targeted at work (harassing phone calls, partners turning up at the office, etc.). Employers have a duty of care to employees and their health, safety, and wellbeing, and this extends to those who are working from home, where these issues are likely to be highlighted and increased. HR has a very important role here and needs to be aware of possible issues where an employee is late to work or underperforming.
In order to create an effective policy and framework, the guidance suggests a framework consisting of four key steps:
- Recognise the problem;
- Respond appropriately to disclosure;
- Provide support;
- Refer to the appropriate help.
Line Managers and HR teams have a part to play in ensuring that they are checking in with individuals and asking open questions to invite disclosure.
What does this mean for you or your business?
It is not a problem for an employer to solve, but it must be alive to the possibility of, and aware of signs of, potential abuse including changes in behaviour or quality of work, or changes in the way employees dress, for example. Employers need to be empathetic and provide support. Line Managers need to make sure they talk to all staff individually, and ask open questions.
There are options for employers to take which cost little to the business but which could have a profound impact for an individual suffering from domestic violence such as flexibility of working hours to allow employees to access professional support, signposting to support, and private communication methods. It also suggests that some organisations already offer up to ten days paid leave to allow employees to access assistance.
As an employer, particularly if you have employees working remotely, you need to be aware of this issue, and make sure you are supporting employees.
What do you need to be doing now?
Although this is guidance, it is comprehensive and offers a list of organisations to signpost to, as well as a draft policy. As homeworking becomes the “new normal” for many, it is more important than ever to make sure you are supporting employees and creating an open and supportive environment that they feel able to speak up in. Reading and implementing the recommendations in the guidance is a good start.
The CIPD guide for employers can be found here.
These notes have been prepared for the purpose of an article only. They should not be regarded as a substitute for taking legal advice.