What are the key aims of the ‘addressing the impact of domestic abuse in the workplace’ project?

By Dr Tony Bennett, Visiting Fellow of the Institute for Research into Organisations, Work and Employment, Lancashire School of Business and Enterprise, University of Central Lancashire
Dr Gemma Wibberley, Research Fellow at Institute for Research into Organisations, Work and Employment, Lancashire School of Business and Enterprise, University of Central Lancashire

As the Domestic Abuse Bill approaches its third and final reading in the House of Commons, which is expected to take place in mid-March, it is opportune for us to reflect on its implications for businesses going forward in the context of the recent and ongoing research undertaken by IROWE.

The domestic abuse in the workplace project was undertaken with the ultimate aim of helping all organisations realise that domestic abuse is not a ‘private matter’.

Rather, that there is an ethical responsibility for employers to help address this issue.

Also, that there is a duty of care under current legislation, but also a strong business case for why it is in all our interests for the workplace to become a haven for victims/survivors of abuse.

To this end, we have developed training material to support employers.

The core finding that we established was that most organisations still do not have a domestic abuse policy, and knowledge of its impact in the workplace by managers and HR colleagues is equally limited.

This means that there is a general understandable reluctance for victims/survivors to disclose issues at work.

Rather, instances of abuse affecting work only came to light when, typically, an employee faced disciplinary action due to the misinterpretation of absence or performance-related issues.

We established that having an effective domestic abuse policy and procedure can not only save you money, it can also reaffirm your commitment to your staff as a good employer.

The key is to raise awareness, introduce appropriate training to key staff, like line managers, and, crucially, ensure that existing people management policies on performance and attendance work with and not against domestic abuse policy reducing the likelihood of inadvertent and unfair punitive action.

As a result of the insight we have gained, we have designed focused workshops which draw on the findings from our and others research to offer a practical strategy for clients.

Following a detailed overview of the causes, consequences and potential actions to take in addressing the impact of domestic abuse, we support clients in devising and delivering an appropriate domestic abuse policy for their organisation.

The workshops can be delivered either online or face to face.

The sessions are highly interactive and designed to draw on the views and experiences of both delegates and facilitators

Regardless of the extent to which a business engages with providers such as ourselves, all businesses need to understand that, besides the more detailed setting up of a policy, and raising general awareness in your organisation, it is of real value to build domestic awareness training into all management development programmes.

In addition, it is advisable to contact local support groups in your area, so that HR has a greater signposting ability should a member of staff approach them for help.

Of course, the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted considerably in this area.

During the lockdown, domestic abuse cases globally were reported to have risen significantly.

Awareness of this is critical for businesses.

Furthermore, our research suggests that the post pandemic ‘new normal’ will mean that the workplace becomes even more critical as a sanctuary for potential abuse victims.

Conversely, other workers may be at risk if continuing to work at home is part of the new norm.

The current progression of the Domestic Abuse Bill through Parliament also reaffirms the need now to put policy and practice into place that respond to the legal, business and ethical drivers for addressing the impact of domestic abuse in the workplace.