The Covid-19 pandemic and ensuing shift to working from home has led to a range of new challenges for employees. Few of these are more severe than the increased risk of domestic abuse that millions around the UK now face.
In response, the Department of Business Energy and Industrial Strategy undertook a review to examine how victims of domestic abuse can be supported in the workplace. The results of that review have just been published and highlight the threat that domestic abuse poses to both employees and employers. The review is divided into three chapters.
- Building an awareness and understanding of domestic abuse amongst employers
- Extending support in the workplace
- Employment rights in light of domestic abuse
The report opens with an exploration of the issues which domestic abuse raises for individuals in work, their employers and colleagues and the importance of raising awareness and understanding. The report found that one of the most prevalent forms of domestic abuse is sabotaging the victim’s employment and career which means that domestic abuse often extends to work itself. The review highlights the key role that businesses and representative organisations, such as trade unions, can play in working together with charities with expertise in understanding and responding to domestic abuse.
The report also found that, even though a growing number of employers are offering support initiatives, there are still significant barriers to accessing this support. This can be because individuals are not aware of the existing support or may not feel comfortable asking for help which can involve disclosing that they are being abused. It can also simply be because the employer does not have an approach in place to deal with the issue. It was noted that there is a lack of recognition of diversity in the victims themselves and how a person may have multiple characteristics that make coming forward all the more difficult. In addition, stereotypical representations of domestic abuse victims can make it more difficult for individuals to identify themselves as victims.
The clear response was that organisations should, wherever possible, have a policy on domestic abuse that is visible across the organisation and the review sets out examples of best practice. It notes there is value in employers working closely with trade unions and specialist organisations in shaping the policy and that a comprehensive policy should set out:
- Signs of abuse;
- Roles and responsibilities;
- Education and training;
- Safety in the workplace;
- Practical support.
Practical support includes paying salaries into separate accounts; additional financial assistance; access to counselling or other health-related services; access to time and space within work to make calls and other arrangements as well as flexibility and time out of work. Safety in the workplace could cover measures such as informing security, providing safe parking spaces, accompanying employees to public transport and ensuring that information about the employees’ whereabouts is not accessible.
The report concluded that the current employment rights framework does not adequately meet the needs of individuals dealing with domestic abuse. The review focuses on the need for ad hoc flexibility or time out of work to deal with the consequences of domestic abuse. It scrutinises the existing right to request flexible working which requires an employee to have worked with their employer for 26 weeks and allows an employer up to three months to respond. The review also highlights an employer’s duty of care which may include protecting employees from the wrongful acts of third parties.
The government conclude by saying that they will consult on proposals to promote flexible working – which includes putting the burden of justifying fixed working practices on employers. They will also consult on how to help victims of abuse to exercise their rights more effectively.