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Domestic Abuse and home working: new guidance highlights vital employer role

Farrer & Co’s full Domestic Abuse Guidance for Employers can be accessed online. It is aimed at employers of all sizes and across sectors who are committed to creating safe workplaces and protecting their workers from all forms of abuse, and includes case study examples of senior employees affected by domestic abuse, who were able to receive help from their employers.

The Home Office estimates that one in four women and one in six men are suffering abuse at home. As the pandemic continues to drive an increase in home working, confining victims to their homes, ‘Domestic Abuse: Guidance for Employers’ highlights the pivotal role that employers can play in tackling this scourge.

With calls to the National Domestic Abuse Hotline rising by 66 per cent over the lockdown, the Guidance, developed by Farrer & Co in collaboration with Jan Pickles OBE, a specialist in domestic abuse and the former director of the Women’s Safety Unit, stresses the urgent need for employers to re-evaluate their workplace policies so that they can offer more effective support to victims.

In 2019, the Home Office calculated that domestic abuse cost UK businesses a staggering £14 billion in reduced productivity. As well as re-stating the legal obligations of employers to safeguard their workers, the new Guidance explores the wider impact of domestic abuse not only on the wellbeing and productivity of victims themselves, but also on co-workers, who may try to help affected colleagues by covering for their absences and who may also find themselves at risk from the abuser.

The new Guidance offers concrete advice for employers on how to devise and implement a holistic domestic abuse policy, including how to handle disclosures by victims and how to deal with any perpetrators in the workforce. It also dispels myths about domestic abuse, stressing that physical abuse and coercive control can affect people of all genders, from all walks of life and at all levels of seniority within an organisation.

Maria Strauss, Partner in the Safeguarding practice at Farrer & Co, said: Domestic abuse is a critical issue for employers, from both a moral and commercial perspective. Tempting as it might be to assume that domestic abuse is a private matter that employers should stay out of, statistically speaking, the unfortunate reality is that most employers will either have a victim or a perpetrator of domestic abuse within their workforce, so it is crucial to have appropriate strategies in place.

“Following the Government’s recent Consultation on Domestic Abuse, tighter laws to protect victims of domestic abuse might well be on their way. However, we would urge employers to pre-empt these announcements and act now: there is no need to sit back and wait when there are potentially life-saving changes that can be implemented quickly.”

Jan Pickles OBE added: The assumption has to be that domestic abuse happens within your workforce. If you are a good employer, you should be making work a safe place for your employees.

“There are lots of simple things that businesses can do that can help staff, and that can make an added contribution to what other people are doing, such as the police, social services and health providers. Employers can be part of the multi-agency solution in helping somebody to move to safety.”

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