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Domestic abuse awareness is the next mental health for employers but ‘NIMBYism’ is rife

Research reveals that, despite the latest Office for National Statistics figures on domestic violence which estimate that almost two million UK adults have experienced some sort domestic abuse in the last year, only one in 20 medium and large UK organisations have a specific policy or guideline to cover domestic abuse among their workforce

Domestic violence

Nearly three-quarters of HR leads in medium and large UK businesses agree companies can empower victims by giving them guidance on how to deal with domestic abuse and only 9% agree it is a personal matter and not appropriate for employees to raise with their employers. Yet, research finds there is a perception that at a senior level within organisations it is not seen as an issue that affects their employees with just 6% strongly agreeing and 20% tending to agree it is an issue that is on the agenda for HR policymakers.

The research, Domestic Violence and Abuse: Working together to transform responses in the workplace undertaken by Durham University Centre for Research into Violence and Abuse and Ipsos MORI, was launched at the BBC radio theatre in London on 29 November 2017 at the first conference to be held by the Employers’ Initiative on Domestic Abuse (EIDA).

Despite the high levels of abuse the ONS figures reveal, the research finds there is an average of only 0.5 disclosures of domestic abuse per medium and larger UK organisation in the last 12 months. Of those that had disclosures or believe employees are affected by domestic abuse, 90% are not even roughly aware of the cost of abuse to their business.

Over the last few decades we’ve seen lots of improvements in responses to domestic abuse. But effective responses in the workplace are lacking. The time has now come for more workplaces to step up and join the movement to end domestic abuse

Professor Nicole Westmarland, director at the Durham University Centre for Research into Violence and Abuse, says: “Over the last few decades we’ve seen lots of improvements in responses to domestic abuse. But effective responses in the workplace are lacking. The time has now come for more workplaces to step up and join the movement to end domestic abuse.”

She adds that employers needs to recognise that they will not only have victims but also perpetrators among their staff.

Ben Page, CEO at Ipsos MORI, said domestic violence was about six years behind mental health in terms of awareness as an issue among employers.

Cressida Dick, Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, told delegates that there are two murders a week due to domestic abuse and the police take a call every 30 seconds in relation to it. She said it was a "tricky" issue for employers but said the Met provided support, which could sometimes take the form of just asking if someone is okay. 

Home Secretary Amber Rudd said employers needed to play their part in breaking the cycle of abuse. Jenn Barnett, head of people experience at Grant Thornton UK, added that it was important employers create a culture that enables everyone to speak. 

A victim of domestic abuse told the conference that the workplace can be a safe haven for those suffering from domestic abuse.

Elizabeth Filkin CBE, who chairs the EIDA steering group, says: “Despite 86% of HR leads agreeing that employers have a duty of care to provide support to employees on the issue of domestic abuse, it is clear from the research that domestic abuse appears to sit outside organisations’ more commonly developed set of ‘duty of care’ policies and guidelines. But in those companies which believe domestic abuse has had an impact in their organisation in the past 12 months, 58% say an employee’s productivity has declined, 56% that it has caused absenteeism and 46% that it had an impact on other colleagues’ productivity. A quarter of these organisations believe that harassment/abuse has occurred at the workplace.

“Given the cost of domestic abuse to business at a time when the UK’s productivity is falling, it is more important than ever that employers do more to tackle the issue, which is why the EIDA came into existence.”

Good practice

One organisation that is actively engaged in helping with the issue is EIDA member Gentoo, a housing organisation in the North East of England. It takes an active approach to domestic abuse in terms of its customers and employees. It has a dedicated domestic abuse business manager, provides a free legal clinic for staff (accessed by over 70 people since 2015), provides access to a domestic violence perpetrator programme for staff and its clients, allows paid leave to attend the perpetrator programme and the Freedom programme for victim-survivors, or to attend court or other appointments. It has 25 trained domestic and sexual violence champions. All managers attended a mandatory ‘Justice for Jane’ session while an employee leaflet recognises that: “For some staff, the workplace is a safe haven and the only place that offers a route to safety.”

The new research comes as the Government consults on the scope and content of a new ‘landmark’ Domestic Violence and Abuse Bill, announced in the Queen’s Speech in June 2017 and which includes the establishment of a Domestic Violence and Abuse Commissioner. The Home Secretary has stated that tackling domestic abuse “requires a multipronged approach which includes legislation, a concerted police response and a culture shift across agencies and within our communities”. This provides the opportunity to emphasise the role of employers, and the importance of the employee-employer relationship, in helping to support those experiencing domestic abuse and engage in prevention activities.

Nine recommendations

1: Introduce a new provision in the Domestic Violence and Abuse Bill which amends the current law so that there is no minimum qualifying period before being able to ask for flexible working for those experiencing domestic abuse; and those experiencing domestic abuse may make more than one application for flexible working in each year.

2: The Government should introduce a minimum entitlement of 10 days’ paid leave in any year to an employee experiencing domestic abuse within the Domestic Violence and Abuse Bill.

3: The statutory guidelines on Personal, Social, Health and Economic education (PSHE) should include mandatory education on domestic abuse and its effects.

4: Ensure the role of the new Commissioner extends to reviewing and monitoring employer action, including in the private sector.

5: A UK National Resource Centre should be established to consolidate and share best practice.

6: A national campaign should be developed to raise awareness of domestic abuse in the workplace and signpost to local support.

7: Greater consideration, training, and awareness raising is needed in the UK around health and safety responsibilities in relation to domestic abuse, including risk assessments of perpetrators.

8: Given the central role of employee assistance programmes (EAPs) to some organisations, greater partnership working needs to take place.

9: Researchers should move beyond ‘making the case’ and seek funding for longitudinal work in partnership with organisations to develop the ‘what works’ literature in this field.


Business in the Community and Public Health England are working on a toolkit bringing best practice together, which will launch in June 2018. BITC wellbeing director Louise Aston said she was optimistic that it would help save lives. 

ThePeopleSpace is a member of the Employers’ Initiative on Domestic Abuse. Membership is free and members share their experiences and practice. For more information please go to the EIDA website. 





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