The developing role of employers in supporting victims of domestic abuse

Dentons

The UK government is seeking views on availability of flexible working and unplanned leave for domestic abuse victims. This forms part of a new review of how employers and the government could better support victims of domestic abuse in the workplace. Domestic violence may not seem obviously linked to the workplace and duties of employers. However, around 75% of victims of domestic violence are also targeted in their workplace. An abusive environment at home can also have serious implications on an individual's health, work and performance. As such, it is a topic which is becoming increasingly relevant to employers. 

The launch of the review is particularly timely, with the UN Secretary-General António Guterres noting that: "…lockdowns and quarantines are essential to suppressing COVID-19. But they can trap women with abusive partners." This issue is unlikely to be temporary. Even as lockdown restrictions ease, many are still unable to return to their place of work and remote working looks to play a larger role in the future of the workplace. The review also comes as the government’s ground-breaking Domestic Abuse Bill continues through Parliament which will bring into law a statutory definition of domestic abuse that includes coercive or controlling behaviour, as well as emotional and economic abuse.

The review was launched by Business Minister Paul Scully, who has said that "domestic abuse may occur in the home, but its impact stretches into every aspect of survivors’ lives". The review aims to provide employers with the tools they need to support workers who are affected by domestic abuse. Nicole Jacobs, Domestic Abuse Commissioner, has said that employers can play a "pivotal role" in supporting victims. It was noted that work and spending time away from their abusers can provide "crucially important" independence for victims of domestic abuse. CIPD chief executive Peter Cheese said: "EHRC research also finds that 75% of those enduring domestic abuse are targeted at work, from harassing phone calls and abusive partners arriving at the office unannounced." Employers should be provided with the support and training to recognise when workers may be at risk and how to provide sensitive and practical support. 

As part of the review, views are sought on the availability of flexible working and unplanned leave for domestic abuse victims. Other options to improve the workplace for victims include how employers can help tackle economic abuse, such as by paying wages to a different bank account or making emergency salary payments available for those in real financial hardship. The review has been launched as the government recognises that, with one in five victims needing to take time off work due to abuse, employers must have the confidence and knowledge to provide support.

The review will involve a call for written evidence from stakeholders on the specific employment needs of domestic abuse victims, and how they are met by current employment rights and practices. The government also seeks to explore examples of best practice from employers within the UK, as well as evidence from other countries on how they approach domestic abuse, to see how the UK’s current employment framework could be enhanced. The review will also include a series of roundtables, run by the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) and Home Office, with organisations and individuals who wish to share their views directly.

BEIS is initially seeking written evidence from employers and other stakeholders on the specific needs of abuse victims and whether these are met under current employment practices by 9 September 2020. It will later consider best practice from employers in the UK and abroad, with a view to improving the current employment rights framework.

Comment

This is certainly an area to watch for employers, as the scope of duties toward employees seems set to change with a greater focus on providing practical support to victims of domestic abuse. However, for now, the emphasis appears to be on a responsive approach where victims of domestic abuse have notified their employers of their situation. At this stage, there does not seem to be a suggestion that employers should require employees to tell them, or otherwise seek to confirm, if an employee is suffering domestic abuse outside the workplace. The purpose of the review is to provide employers with the tools they need to support employees who have sought help in relation to domestic violence. 

More broadly, this consultation reflects a changing understanding of the significance of interplay between home and work. Employers are no longer disregarding employees' home-related issues. Instead, they are starting to look at home-related issues as a piece of the puzzle in promoting employee welfare and strong engagement in the workplace.

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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