Support in the workplace for survivors of domestic violence


18-01-2021

It has been widely reported that domestic violence has risen during lockdown. Refuge has reported an increase in demand for help, especially after the schools re-opened in September. The UN has suggested that cases have increased by as much as 20% as families have been contained within their home together. Although it is reported by Refuge that almost one in three women will experience domestic abuse in their lifetime, a large number of men also suffer from this harm.

The law has changed in past years to give additional protection to survivors of domestic violence. The Protection from Harassment Act came into force in 1997 after high profile cases such as Jill Dando’s murder were reported. Although the man imprisoned for her death was later acquitted, he had a history of stalking women and committing sexual offences. In 2007, Forced Marriage Protection Orders were introduced and a separate criminal offence of forced marriage was established in 2014.

There is a continued drive by the government to improve the support that is given to those affected by domestic violence. The Serious Crime Act 2015 created a new offence of coercive control. The government has introduced “relationship education” which, from September 2020, is to be taught in schools.

On 9th June 2020, Business Minister Paul Scully (Minister for London) launched a review of employment rights for survivors of domestic abuse. This is part of the government’s wider approach to tackling domestic abuse and looks at what more can be done to help survivors of domestic abuse in the workplace and how employers can better support them. Some employers are addressing these issues ahead of any legislation for government guidance that may be put in place.

WHAT IS DOMESTIC ABUSE?

Domestic abuse is not just physical violence. It can include verbal, emotional, economic and sexual abuse.

There is currently a draft bill before Parliament, the Domestic Abuse Bill, which aims to create a statutory definition of domestic abuse. At present, this reads as behaviour of a person towards another person connected to each other (and who are both over the age of 16) that consists of:

  • Physical or sexual abuse;
  • Violent or threatening behaviour;
  • Controlling or coercive behaviour;
  • Economic abuse i.e. having a substantial effect on that person’s ability to acquire, use or maintain money, property, goods or services.

According to the 16 Days of Action Project, 25% of women and 16% of men are affected by domestic violence during their lifetime. This results in those employees being late to or even absent from work and business losing 2 billion pounds per year.

FAMILY LAW REMEDIES THAT EMPLOYEES MAY NEED

As well as experiencing domestic violence, employees may be under the stress of taking action or considering an application in the family Court.

Whilst the first port of call for employees will be to contact the police, they should also take advice from a family solicitor to discuss the other orders that they can obtain through the family Court. These are:

  • A non-molestation order which prevents the abuser from intimidating, pestering and harassing them; and
  • An occupation order which requires one person to leave the family home;

These are emergency remedies and can be granted immediately or at short notice (7 – 14 days) to the other party. They can last for up to one year.

It is important that victims get legal advice at the start of their case to obtain advice specific to them and enable them to choose the right options for their family. For example, if they are worried about the other party keeping their children after a period of contact, the Court can make a prohibited steps or specific issue order in respect of the children. These orders can prevent the other party from retaining the children in an attempt to further influence the victim or make them act in a particular way.

The Family Court is still looking at measures that need to be taken during these proceedings to protect survivors of abuse. The family team at Howes Percival can ensure that the victims are protected as much as possible throughout the process.

CURRENT DUTY OF EMPLOYERS TOWARDS THEIR EMPLOYEES

Although domestic abuse relates to an employee’s home life, it will inevitably have an effect on all other aspects of their life – including work. Employers should subsequently be mindful of this important issue. For example, victims of domestic abuse may:

  • Need additional/unplanned time off work or flexible working to deal with the effects of abuse, childcare issues or any criminal or court proceedings;
  • Be targeted at work via harassing phone calls or abusive partners coming to see them unannounced (with research showing that 75% of victims are targeted at work);
  • Suffer from depression and/or anxiety as a result of the abuse;
  • Experience a downturn in performance and attendance at work;
  • Not have access to their own income as a result of economic abuse.

However, it is important to appreciate that the workplace may be one of the few places where a victim of domestic abuse is separate from their abuser. They may feel able to ask for help in the workplace in order to access the information and support they need. Employers are therefore in a strong position to be able to create a safe and supportive working environment. In doing so, they will be ensuring the health and safety and wellbeing of their employees and complying with the duty of care towards their employees.

As well as being a legal duty, demonstrating concern for the physical and mental health of employees can also be key in building trust, improving staff retention, boosting productivity and generating greater employee engagement and commitment.

Employers can take various steps to provide further support to victims of domestic abuse, which are explored in greater detail below.

WHAT CAN EMPLOYERS DO NOW?

The government consultation will review:

  • The availability of flexible working and unplanned leave for domestic abuse survivors;
  • What more can be done to help survivors in the workplace; and
  • How employers can help tackle economic abuse e.g. by paying wages into a different bank account or making emergency salary payments for those in financial hardship.

Although we are awaiting the results of the consultation, the CIPD and Equality and Human Rights Commission recently published guidance for employers (which can be found here). This provides a useful overview of the issues and how employers can support employees experiencing domestic abuse.

Some of the key, practical steps which employers can take now include the following:

  • Offer flexible working and additional/unplanned paid leave so employees can attend counselling and appointments, make childcare and housing arrangements, deal with any criminal or court proceedings and get support from professional organisations.
  • Adopt a non-judgemental approach and create an open work culture to encourage employees to come forward.
  • Develop a domestic abuse policy and an effective framework around domestic abuse support. This should be well-publicised within the business.
  • Outline the different roles and responsibilities to provide support within the business. For example, HR, line managers and other members of staff will all play different roles in identifying abuse and providing the appropriate support.
  • Signpost employees to supportive services, charities and organisations. Employers are not expected to “solve the problem" or act as counsellors themselves.
  • Make it clear that abusive behaviour is the responsibility of the perpetrator and any misconduct inside and outside of work is serious and may lead to disciplinary action.
  • Join the 16 Days of Action Against Domestic Violence campaign. This is supported by Public Heath England and provides a toolkit for employers (which can be found here).

Employers such as Lloyds Bank, Vodafone and CILEx already have policies in place.

WHAT IS NEXT FOR EMPLOYERS?

Submissions were welcomed on the government consultation until 9th September 2020 and we are now waiting to hear the results. If you require any further advice on the Employment Law issues above, please contact Sobia Ahmad on 01604 222138. For further advice on the Family Law aspects, please contact Melanie Westwood on 0116 247 3560.  

 

The information on this site about legal matters is provided as a general guide only. Although we try to ensure that all of the information on this site is accurate and up to date, this cannot be guaranteed. The information on this site should not be relied upon or construed as constituting legal advice and Howes Percival LLP disclaims liability in relation to its use. You should seek appropriate legal advice before taking or refraining from taking any action.

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