Being aware of domestic abuse victims in your workplace

Franchisors and franchisees alike face many challenges as winter closes in. The potential impact on staff when at home should not be ignored. HR expert Sue Tumelty offers advice for employers on how to tackle this issue.

Being aware of domestic abuse victims in your workplace

Last year we at The HR Dept were delighted to collaborate with the Employers Initiative on Domestic Abuse (EIDA) and the Domestic Abuse (DA) Alliance to create Sharon’s Policy.

Instigated by business owner and survivor of abuse Sharon Livermore, Sharon’s Policy calls for businesses to take up four key measures around recognising, responding to and recording domestic abuse cases, then referring on to specialist support.

Now, as the UK starts another challenging winter The HR Dept and its collaborating organisations have repeated calls for those in the workplace to be aware of instances of domestic abuse.

Any franchise business will notice the impact of failing to tackle the effects of domestic violence on people in the organisation, whether these are franchisees or staff employed by them.

These negative impacts on the workplace can include increased absenteeism, poor performance, higher staff turnover and inappropriate behaviour – none of which promote a productive working culture.

So, from a moral and a business point of view, it makes sense to act quickly when problems are identified.

Being vigilant for cases among your workforce

For many victims of domestic abuse, the workplace may be a refuge from what they are suffering at home, making symptoms hard to spot. That’s why it’s really important to give responsibility to line managers, with a role which first ensures that victims are coming to you either directly or via their team members. Symptoms to be aware of include employees coming to work with unexplained injuries, who appear distressed, have unexplained periods of time off work or show an uncharacteristic deterioration in work performance.

Managers should provide initial help and support, including advice on the options available for the employee and referrals to appropriate sources of professional help and support.

As a business owner, you should tackle instances sensitively, with confidentiality as far as possible depending on any additional circumstances. You of course also have an interest in ensuring the employee remains productive, efficient and at work.

This is a challenging aspect of management. However employees need to be able to speak privately, without fear of judgement, and should feel confident that speaking up about domestic violence will not adversely affect their employment.

In December last year the Government made an amendment to the Fair Work Act 2009. It includes an entitlement to unpaid family and domestic violence leave as part of the NES (National Employment Standards) for all employees, including those who are part-time and casual.

The balance of confidentiality

Our policy states that, where an employee has discussions with their Line Manager, an alternative Line Manager, an HR contact or First Responder that they are experiencing domestic abuse, confidentiality will usually be maintained as far as possible.

There are, however, some circumstances in which confidentiality cannot be assured. These circumstances occur when there are concerns about children or vulnerable adults, where high risk to safety has been identified, or where we need to act to protect the safety of members of the public, including other colleagues.

Where a perpetrator may be placing their partner or family members in genuine danger this may be reported to the police. This will be subject to prior discussion with the employee wherever it is reasonably practicable to do so.

Personal data will be stored in accordance with the company’s data protection policy.

Dealing with perpetrators of domestic abuse within your workforce

The HR Dept recommends that no company should tolerate or condone domestic abuse, regardless of the identity or seniority of the perpetrator, with appropriate action to be taken. 

The policy suggests that any domestic abuse that endangers another employee or uses company equipment to inflict that abuse, such as mobile phones or laptops, may result in disciplinary action under the organisation’s disciplinary policy up to and including dismissal for Gross Misconduct.

In some cases it may be appropriate for the Company to provide support to an employee who is seeking to address their behaviour, for example by providing access to specialist support services and this will be decided on a case by case basis.

Making reasonable adjustments

Where an employee needs time off in respect to accessing support, managing any legal issues or family requirements, a company should provide a reasonable amount of [paid]  time off up to a maximum of [10 days] per year.  Employees who need time off should discuss this with their Line Manager and HR contact to agree how much leave is required, how and when it will be taken and whether leave will be paid or unpaid.

For advice on any of the points raised in this article, contact your local The HR Dept licensee.

Sue Tumelty
Sue Tumelty