Domestic Violence: The impact on work

Angela Hart takes a look at domestic violence, exploring how it can affect employers and explaining what employers can do to support employees who are affected by it.

What is domestic violence?

Domestic violence is a pattern of controlling and aggressive behaviour from one adult, towards another, within the context of an intimate relationship. The perpetrator can be either a man or a woman.

  • It can be physical, sexual, psychological or emotional abuse. Financial abuse and social isolation are also common features.
  • The violence and abuse can be actual or threatened and can happen once every so often or on a regular basis.
  • Anybody can be a victim of domestic violence.
  • All kinds of relationships – heterosexual, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT).,
  • All types of people – it does not matter which social class the individual is, which racial or ethnic group they belong to, what sort of life style they lead, what age they are, whether they are disabled or ill, or even what level of education they have attained.
  • Domestic violence can start at any point in a relationship, at the beginning, or after many otherwise non violent years spent together.
  • Children are affected by domestic violence both in the short and the long term. In 40-60% of domestic violence cases, children are also abused. 90% of the children who are taken to refuges are traumatised as a result of witnessing domestic violence, bringing feelings of fear, anger, insecurity and guilt. In extreme cases, children may self-harm or attempt suicide.
  • In some cases the perpetrator of the domestic violence can be a child or teenager.
  • Both male and female partners can be the perpetrator of the domestic violence, less frequently but still wholly unacceptable, men are abused by their partners, both male and female.
  • All forms of abuse – psychological, economic, emotional and physical – come from the abuser’s desire for power and control

The affects on employment

From an employer’s perspective domestic violence is very much like an illness, because the consequences of it have the same effect on an employee’s ability to perform their job successfully.

It is not just the absences caused whilst recovering from the injuries the employee has received during an attack that affects the employer, it is also the mental stress the employee suffers as a result of the violence, which even though they are able to attend work will affect their performance.

It is not unknown for violent partners to object to their victim working overtime, or traveling away on business. Whilst the employee may be willing their fear of the consequences at home will prevent them from doing so.

It is not unknown for violent partners to visit their victims at work, and for a variety of reasons end up threatening or attacking their partners’ colleagues.

Work may also be the only place that a victim can escape their violent partner. As a result it may be the only place where a victim can seek help.

Male employees who are victims of domestic violence, often suffer additional mental stress as a result of their perceived failure to fulfill social stereotypes of the strong male figure.

Support for female victims

Most major cities and many towns in the United Kingdom have refuges which provide a safe haven for female victims of domestic violence.

For many victims going to a refuge is a last resort that is often seen as a sign of their failure, rather than an acceptance of being abused. This can be a consequence of the ‘you made me do it’ logic adopted by many abusers towards their victims

In Leeds the refuge is provided by Leeds Women’s Aid (LWA), which is an independent registered charity.

LWA has been operating for 33 years. Last year, they housed and supported 203 children with their mothers in their refuges. They also work in the community, running information sessions at the ante-natal departments of our local hospitals, helping to protect unborn children, as domestic violence often starts or escalates during pregnancy.

The passage about LWA is a bit too geographically specific for the website, but would work well in print. We will put in a link to a national charity website

The Police

For many years police forces viewed domestic violence as just that, a domestic issue, that they should not get involved in. That view is now changing.

Many police forces now see domestic violence as an insidious crime which wrecks the lives of thousands of adults and children each year in the UK. It is a major cause of family distress and social exclusion and is something which Police forces across the UK are determined to tackle effectively.

Incidents of domestic violence are rarely a one-off event. One violent incident tends to lead to another, and such incidents often increase in frequency and severity over time, sometimes only ending when someone is killed.

It is common for police forces to have officers who are specially trained and dedicated to dealing with domestic violence.

These domestic violence specialists Co-coordinators do not attend at the scene of a domestic incident, but they do monitor incidents of domestic violence and initiate the first stages of the prevention process. This may include sending warning letters to perpetrators and providing advice to victims.

What can an employer do to help?

Employers can help by ensuring that they have information about local agencies that can provide support.

It might be useful if human resources can make good links with the local women’s aid project, so that when an employee discloses domestic violence they know who to turn to for guidance in supporting the employee.

As well as giving support direct to women who have experienced violence, most women’s aid projects will also give guidance to people who are trying to support a woman who has disclosed domestic violence.

An employer can also have domestic violence posters and leaflets displayed in the work place.

What are the signs that an employee may be subject to domestic violence?

Changes in personality, increased anxiety, tearfulness and loss of self-confidence can all be signs.

There are obvious signs such as bruising and explanations which are not consistent with the injuries.

Other signs are a reluctance to agree to things outside of work (such as a drink after work) without checking if it is ok with their partner.

Another sign may be never having any money (he may be controlling the finances) or putting themselves down all the time, especially calling themselves, stupid, fat or ugly. An increase in absence from work may also be an indicator.

What proactive steps can employers take to help victims come forward and seek help?

Let it be known that domestic violence will not be tolerated in the company by displaying posters from women’s.

Also, by having a policy which sets out what support will be given to staff.

What are employers not allowed to do?

Don’t be directive “you must leave him” or judgmental “I can’t believe you’re taking all of this”. She is being controlled by the perpetrator of the violence, and the last thing she needs is to be told what to do. She needs to work out her personal strategy in her own time. The more information she has about her rights and options, the better equipped she will be to make a decision to end the violence.

Employers must not try to take control of the situation. Never ever confront the perpetrator- by doing that she may be in greater danger.

Never discuss the situation. Complete confidentiality must be maintained. Only those who absolutely need to know e.g. human resources and line manager must be told.

At what stage should an employer call the police about an employee who is the victim of domestic violence?

An employer should only ever call the police if an illegal act is committed in the work place e.g. an assault has taken place.

Anything that happened outside the work place is her personal business, and it is up to her to decide if she wants to involve the police.

How do refuges help?

If an employer reports to a refuge their suspicions that an employee is the victim of domestic violence what sort of help will the refuge be able to offer?

Information will be given about organizations that can help e.g. specialist solicitors, telephone help-lines and services that the refuge can offer directly. Most refuges have an outreach service which can offer information about their rights and options as well as support to the woman.

If women want to leave the violent relationship and have no-where to go they can come and live in a refuge, whether or not they have children. They will be helped to get re-housed and settled back into the community.

Women can also be helped to get occupation orders, which means a court can instruct the perpetrator to leave the house, even if her name is not on the tenancy/ mortgage if children are involved. Women can also be helped to get injunctions to prevent further attacks and harassment.

Think a colleague is affected?

What advice should employers give to employees who suspect a colleague is the victim of domestic violence?

  • To be non-judgmental and non-directive.
  • To listen.
  • To remind them that the company have a domestic violence policy.
  • Give them information about agencies that can help.
  • Suggest they talk it over with human resources/ line manager. Offer to come along for support.
  • Tell them that what is happening is not their fault.

Employers and trade unions working together

How can employers and trade union representative’s work together to help victims of domestic violence?

  • By developing domestic violence policies.
  • By circulating information about domestic violence via e-mail to employees.
  • Designating the work place a “zero tolerance” area.

Perpetrators visiting work place?

What should employers do if a perpetrator visits their victim at work?

This will depend on what the company policy is about having visitors in the work place.

If the perpetrator is distressing the employee, then they should be asked to leave politely. If aggression is used, she may pay for it later.

If they refuse, then they should be treated as a trespasser and security should be called. If someone is making threats then a criminal act is being committed and the police should be called.

What can employers do to help perpetrators stop?

Some employers (mainly in the public sector) have as part of their domestic violence policy that employees who are perpetrators will be disciplined.

This could apply if a case goes to court and the employee is bringing the company into disrepute.

Supporting the supporters 

How can employers help charities and not for profit organizations that support all victims of domestic violence?

By organizing fund-raising events.

This not only helps the charities (usually 40-50% of running costs have to be fund-raised) but also signals to employees that the company takes domestic violence seriously.

Having a fund-raising event is also a very good way of raising awareness of the problem and the services that exist to help.

Angela Hart

Where can employers get additional help, support or publicity materials?

Women’s Aid

Action Aid

Survivors UK

Safeline