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Domestic abuse - spotting the signs in the workplace

If you see someone at work who you think is the victim of domestic abuse what should you do?

Published 29 November 2021

This year during the national '16 days of action' campaign Wiltshire Council has joined forces with Wiltshire Police to remind employers of the signs to look out for and how to assist a colleague and make them aware of the help and advice that is available.

Women's Aid data shows that in any one year 20% of employed women will experience domestic abuse. As people start to return to the workplace and for those still working from home, some key advice on what to look out for and where to go for help are being shared to help people understand what they can do to provide support.

Figures from '16 days of action' show 25% of women and 16% of men are affected by domestic violence in their adult lifetimes. A further 75% of people who endure domestic violence are targeted at work and 68% of abused women miss at least three days of work a month.

The Department of Health (opens new window) says signs to look out for include:

  • frequent absence - changes in working pattern - lateness, needing to leave early, unexplained sick leave
  • changes in behaviour (checking phone regularly) - changes in use of personal mobile in workplace, staying at work longer than usual (avoiding going home)
  • unexplained injuries - change in amount of make up used, visible bruising or clothing which is not suited to the climate (long sleeves in hot weather)
  • decreased productivity
  • withdrawn - isolating themselves from colleagues, tearful, secretive about home life

If employers have concerns they should:

  • be sensitive and non-judgemental and instead be supportive and discreet
  • allocate private time and space to listen
  • prioritise safety over work efficiency
  • not contact the abuser
  • call 999 if their colleague is in immediate danger
  • advise of the support available

Employers have an increased legal responsibility to any employee who discloses they may be at risk of harm and all workplaces should have a domestic abuse policy for staff which is reviewed periodically.  Employers can ensure where employees are working from home there is daily contact with one call from a colleague and there are links to support services available on the intranet. Employers should also give written or verbal guidance to line managers to the challenges of those working from home to domestic abuse.

Kate Blackburn, Wiltshire Council's Director of Public Health said: "It is important employers know what to do if there are concerns a member of staff is suffering from domestic abuse. As we continue to work from home or for those returning to the workplace it is about recognising the signs and then knowing what steps to take to assist our colleagues. It is important to provide them with the space they need but also to share information on the support available so they can make changes for the better."

Detective Inspector Helen Clarke from Wiltshire Police said:  "Domestic abuse can affect the victim and their family is so many ways - home life and work life. And, although employers have little control over what happens in someone's home, the workplace is one area where help can be given.

"Even when someone is working from home - a manager or close colleague can make regular checks and offer any work place based support too.

"We fully back the 16 days of action campaign which not only focuses on spotting the signs of domestic abuse at work but also on identifying and offering the most appropriate help available."

Police and Crime Commissioner, Philip Wilkinson said: "We know that domestic abuse continues to be under-reported in our county meaning that many victims are suffering in silence.

"For those victims who are so entrenched in abusive relationships it can be near impossible for them to seek help, and the various lockdown restrictions will have made it even more difficult.

"We must all take some responsibility for spotting the signs and having those difficult conversations and this campaign is a good opportunity for us each to educate ourselves and support those around us, both personally and professionally."

People who are experiencing domestic abuse in Wiltshire can speak to Splitz Support Service on 01225 775276 or on the out of hours helpline 01225 712880. In an emergency dial 999.

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