The COVID19 pandemic has resulted in domestic violence victims being unable to access support in the usual way. According to Women’s Aid 67.4% of victims who are currently experiencing abuse said that they abuse had got worse during the pandemic. Women’s Aid define domestic abuse as
“an incident or pattern of incidents of controlling, coercive, threatening, degrading and violent behaviour, including sexual violence, in the majority of cases by a partner or ex-partner, but also by a family member or carer. It is very common. In the vast majority of cases it is experienced by women and is perpetrated by men.”
Why is this an issue for employers?
Research by KPMG indicates that £316m in economic output is lost due to absence related to domestic abuse. Additionally, loss of earnings for victims is £5800 per annum. 75% of victims are harassed by their abusers whilst at work, so it clearly penetrates working life and performance.
There are circumstances where an employer may be liable for steps taken (or not taken) relating to domestic abuse so it vital that employers are alive to the problem and take an active stance against it.
The Statutory Framework
Domestic abuse is defined as “Any incident or pattern of incidents of controlling, coercive or threatening behaviour, violence or abuse between those aged 16 or over who are, or have been, intimate partners or family members regardless of gender, or sexuality. It can encompass, but is not limited to the following types of abuse: psychological, physical, sexual, financial emotional.”
The Domestic Abuse Bill is currently going through parliament and will codify and introduce a new statutory definition.
Obligations on Employers
Employers have a duty to take reasonable care of the health and safety of employees. As such, where there is a known risk of domestic abuse the starting point would be a risk assessment, taking account of domestic abuse risks when working from home and identifying measures to minimise those risks. Furthermore, physical or mental injuries arising from domestic abuse may have a substantial and long term adverse effect on the victims ability to carry out day to day activities, thereby bringing them within the scope of the Equality Act. If the parties are co-workers employers also need to be alive to other potential claims under the Equality Act and Protection from Harassment Act. If an employer fails to protect an employee at work it may also be deemed to have breached the implied term of mutual trust and confidence, entitling the employee to claim constructive unfair dismissal.
The CIPD and Equality and Human Rights Commission both advocate challenging perpetrators in the workplace.
Therefore, employers would benefit from adopting a Domestic Abuse Strategy and Policy to deal with alleged or admitted perpetrators.
Disciplinary Procedures should be updated to include domestic abuse as grounds of misconduct or gross misconduct, where ever it occurs.
How do you implement a domestic abuse strategy?
- Domestic Abuse Policy
- Raise Awareness
- Share Knowledge and Best Practice
Implementing a domestic abuse strategy and responding sensitively and promptly to employees who are victims need not be a significant cost to employers, but it could have a genuinely life changing impact on employees.
For advice and support on domestic abuse click here