We may not realise it but your colleagues or employees could be finding sanctuary in the workplace against an abusive relationship.
The workspace may be the only space in which the employee is safe to have their sense of identity and where they are treated equally as an adult and a person in their own individual right.
This will not be how they are treated at home.
Therefore, the response from the workplace could be the one determining factor in supporting a victim/employee to make a safe disclosure and working towards making a safe exit from their abusive relationship.
Here are 5 tips for what employers can do to support employees experiencing domestic abuse.
1: Have a robust Domestic Abuse Policy in place
This allows employees to at least know of the policy and that their employer is committed to supporting staff around domestic abuse. It helps the staff member know that they can turn to their employer for support if they need to.
Such policies should:
- Spell out the signs of domestic abuse, roles and responsibilities of those who will respond to the victim/employee
- Ensure that identified staff members receive education and training on domestic violence & abuse and become the DA Champions among your staff team
- Clarify what the employer can practically offer in terms of fine accounts, additional financial assistance, flexibility to access counselling or other health-related services, signposting to specialist services, access to time and space within work to make calls and other arrangements as well as paid leave, flexibility and time out of work
- Ensure safety in and around the place of work, such as informing security, providing safe parking spaces, accompanying to buses or trains, and ensure that information about the employee’s whereabouts is not accessible (for example, listing members of staff on websites), changing phone number, moving staff member to a non-public facing role
- Be clear about their protocol and approach to perpetrators or employees showing abusive behaviours
There are various example templates online including those of Unison, Women’s Aid and SafeLives.
2: Ensure Awareness and Understanding of what Domestic Abuse is
It is important to note that many victims of domestic violence & abuse do not identify themselves as victims.
They can be unaware of what kinds of behaviour constitute abuse.
Typically, when asked what their partner does to them, they might answer with “they make me feel stupid”, “they scare me”, “they threaten me they hurt my feelings” etc.
These impacts and effects of abuse rather than a description of the behaviours themselves.
3: Recognise the Signs & Symptoms of experiencing domestic abuse
There are a huge range of signs and symptomatic behaviours that employer and colleagues should be aware of. It would be really helpful to ensure staff are aware of these. These might include:
- frequent absence or late arrival to work
- changes in behaviour
- seemingly more secretive than usual
- jumpy or seeming more on edge than usual
- seems flat and withdrawn
- behaving out of character
- unexplained injuries
- stops attending staff social events
- calling in sick
- longer periods of sick leave due to stress-related conditions
The context of the victim/employee’s situation is incredibly important. These signs should be considered before any form of disciplinary procedure.
4: Responding Effectively to Disclosure
It is so important to give the appropriate response.
It can take an average of fifty separate incidents of domestic abuse before a victim tells another person or seeks help.
If the response they get minimises or tries to justify their experience in any way, it is likely they will continue in their situation believing there is something wrong with them, they are over-reacting and shouldn’t make a fuss, or that they deserve it and are to blame for the way they are treated.
- Take disclosure seriously – believe the employee
- Reenforce abuse is not their fault – it’s unacceptable
- Victim cannot change their abusive partner’s behavior
- Reassure them – they are not the only one
- There is life after domestic violence, and you can offer them support
- Domestic violence rarely happens only once, it will escalate in frequency and severity
- Break the silence and talk about what is happening – don’t remain isolated
- Confidentiality and its limits
5: Keep a Record
Living with domestic violence and abuse is a very confusing experience for all victims.
It is easy for the victim/employee to be solely focussed on the most recent incident rather than the whole chronology of incidents experienced.
From the point of disclosure record any data given by them, with description, dates and times. This may be really helpful in supporting them with reporting to the police, specialist domestic abuse services or legal processes.
Many victims will go on to live happier, brighter lives after extricating themselves from their abusive relationships.
The role the employer and colleagues can play in supporting this process is vital because it is almost impossible to leave an abusive relationship without such support.
Ensure you support their decisions, empower them to believe in themselves and always instil a sense of hope.
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