It’s a sad fact that one in four women and one in seven men will experience some form of domestic abuse in their lifetime. A statistic that sadly continues to grow.
Domestic abuse comes in many forms. It might be physical, pushing, hitting; it can also be emotional and psychological. The abuser might be controlling, show coercive or threatening behaviour. None of this behaviour is acceptable in any kind of relationship. But when you’re in the thick of it, it can be hard to see how bad it has become or know what to do about it.
Your employee might be scared they will be left having to choose between their partner and their children, or that they will be walking away from financial stability. By this point their self-confidence may be at all time low and they will start to feel stuck in a situation they can’t get out of.
Spot the warning signs of domestic abuse
The signs of domestic abuse won’t always be obvious. If someone has physical signs such as bruises or scrapes, they may provide excuses for these to avoid talking about what is really happening. They might try and hide these injuries by wearing long sleeves in summer months.
Signs of domestic abuse won’t always be physical, and the abuse could be more emotional and psychological. These individuals might have previously been bubbly and confident but now have a low self-esteem and have become quieter. You might notice they are checking in with their partner more or starting to skip social events.
When you are in the deepest depths of domestic abuse, you go to great lengths to hide that it is happening from others. You may feel fear of what your partner might do or feel shame and embarrassment that this is happening.
With the right support, there is a way out
How do I know this? Because I’m a survivor of domestic abuse. I know all too well how hard it is to walk away from a situation and start all over again. But I did manage to do it and I’m one of the lucky ones. I’m now happily married to a very supportive partner, I have a safe home, my children are happy and healthy, and I’ve been able to rebuild my life. But it wasn’t easy, and it’s taken a long time to get here.
I’m very aware of the impact that domestic abuse can have on every facet of your life and now I lead my own team, I feel very passionately about what I can do as am employer to create a safe space for my employees to thrive.
Many survivors of domestic abuse are impacted at work – whether through abusive calls and emails, their abuser stalking them at the office, or simply through decreased productivity and ability to work. As employers, we have a duty to safeguard the well-being of our staff. Yet, alarmingly, only 5% of companies currently have a domestic abuse policy, despite 86% of companies believing they have a duty of care towards domestic abuse victims.
Steps employers can take
There are a number of things employers can do and put in place if they have an employee who is suffering abuse at home. Some of these seemingly simple things can make a huge difference to someone experiencing abuse:
- If you suspect an employee is suffering from domestic abuse, offer them a chance to talk. They may not want to immediately, but let them know your door is always open and have regular check-ins to provide opportunities to talk.
- If yours is a physical place of work can you put measures in place to stop the abuser from getting access to them at work? Consider putting security keypads on entrance doors to the workplace to provide a safe space to work in.
- If you have a remote team – can you help them to work somewhere safer than in their home? Perhaps there is a co-working space they can use to get away during the day. This is something your organisation could help facilitate.
- Put a policy and procedure in place to ensure employees feel comfortable raising issues at work. Share the policy widely to let employees know you can help and how they can access the support.
- Train staff and managers to look for signs that an employee might be struggling. Remember, not all scars and abuse will be physically visible.
- Offer the employee time off for them to do things – the things they need to do but can’t do when being watched at home. As an example, Australia has a standard policy where employees can take up to 2 weeks off fully paid and it shows as normal on a payslip so it can’t alert the abuser.
- Offering to pay their wages into a different bank account will help them gain financial independence. This could mean the difference between them having to stay in a toxic situation and being able to leave.
- If the employee is ready to leave their home, offer to provide them references for a new home or rental property. If your company is able to, could you consider lending them the finances they need for a deposit or towards moving costs.
- Talk to your employee and ask them what support they need. Work together to determine what can be put into place. Offer them timescales so they know you are taking things seriously.
- Listen and be there for them. Admitting they are in this situation is a big step. Sometimes the biggest help is giving them the time and space to talk about how they feel and what they are going through. Provide a private space, turn off your phone and give them the attention they need.
Stand against domestic abuse
As an employer, you have the power to make a real difference through implementing a domestic abuse policy, training managers on spotting signs of abuse, and creating a supportive environment for survivors. Your actions as an employer can help change and even save someone’s life.
Support for employers is available. Charities like EIDA provide best practices, resources and practical guidance to help you carry out this vital duty of care. If you sign up as a member you can also gain access to a sample policy so you don’t have to start from scratch.
By supporting survivors, you can create a safer, more productive workplace, as well as potentially save a life.
Cheryl Sharp is the founder and CEO of Pink Pig Financial, and also a domestic abuse mentor. Cheryl founded Pink Pig Financials in 2014, specialising in providing accountancy and consultancy services to SME's. Alongside this, Cheryl mentors women who have suffered domestic abuse, helping them to rebuild their lives and achieve financial independence.