We Need to Tackle Domestic Abuse in the Workplace

Robert Wells

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Robert Wells, (2019, October 13). We Need to Tackle Domestic Abuse in the Workplace. Psychreg on Organisational Psychology. https://www.psychreg.org/domestic-abuse-workplace/
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Incredibly, many employers still believe that domestic abuse is none of their business. That abuse is a personal issue, that has nothing to do with the workplace. However, the effects of domestic abuse often extend outside of the home.

Domestic abuse can enter the workplace when an abuser attempts to harass, stalk, threaten, or injure a victim at work. This can endanger co-workers and clients as well as victims, putting an entire workplace at risk. The implications of domestic abuse can range from reduced employee productivity to serious injuries and even death.

Of the two million, known, domestic abuse victims last year, 75% will be targeted at work by their abuser.

The social, emotional, and financial costs of abuse are difficult to measure, but analysis released recently by the Trust for London and the Henry Smith Charity, highlights the costs of domestic abuse to the public purse across England alone, to be a minimum of £5 million each week in every region.

The UK government estimates that the total, social and economic cost of domestic abuse in 2017, was approximately £66 billion. With £14 billion arising from lost output, due to time off work and reduced productivity, as a direct consequence of domestic abuse. However, just 5% of organisations have a domestic abuse policy, or guidelines to inform line managers and HR how to respond. It’s therefore hardly surprising, that only 0.5% of employees experiencing domestic abuse, disclose their experiences at work.

The risk is present for all employers, regardless of the size of your organisation or the nature of your business. By doing the right thing for employees, employers can mitigate this risk.

Effects of domestic abuse

Domestic abuse can have serious implications for your workplace, including:

  • Reduced employee productivity and motivation
  • Loss of focus, which can also lead to increased risk of injury
  • Increased absenteeism
  • Replacement, recruitment, and training costs if victims are injured or dismissed for poor performance
  • Higher company health expenses
  • Decreased worker morale
  • Strained co-worker relations
  • Potential harm to employees, co-workers, and/or clients, when a violent abuser enters the workplace
  • Liability costs, if a member of the public or another employee in the workplace is harmed.

Domestic abuse also has serious impacts on the health of victims and their families, as well as on the health care system. Physical health effects include injury, disability, chronic pain, and problems related to alcohol and substance abuse.

Impacts on mental health include depression, posttraumatic stress disorder, and suicide attempts. Victims of domestic abuse often require medical attention and hospitalisation and are three times more likely to develop serious mental health issues. Statistics show that, 41.2% of men suffer from mental or emotional problems, as do 55.8% women; 11% of male victims had tried to take their own lives, as had 7.2% of female victims.

People who witness violence also suffer mental health consequences, making co-workers vulnerable. Increased absenteeism and sick time and decreased work productivity stemming from domestic abuse, could result in high costs to your organisation.

Implementing policies and programmes to address all kinds of violence and abuse in the workplace, including domestic abuse, is in an organisation’s best interest.

Employers should be alert to their potential legal obligations, the signs of domestic abuse, and be able to assess potential risks to the victim, co-workers, and other bystanders. Procedures, policies, and work environment arrangements can help to eliminate or minimise risks.

Addressing employees’ personal safety needs and connecting them with appropriate community resources helps them feel safe, and results in a healthier, more productive workforce. Promoting awareness and implementing appropriate procedures and policies can further prevent serious injuries and fatalities.

People experiencing domestic abuse are often isolated due to shame and fear, and may be reluctant to ask for help. The silence surrounding this kind of abuse can put other workers and the workplace at risk. Creating opportunities for workers to feel more comfortable talking about domestic abuse, can help to prevent it from entering a workplace and can assist with your plans to deal with violence should it arise. Employers, supervisors, managers, unions, co-workers, health and safety committees (HSCs), and health and safety representatives (HSRs) can all play a role in supporting victims of domestic abuse.

The Equality & Human Rights Commission recommends that employers adopt an effective workplace domestic abuse policy, to demonstrate commitment to supporting victims and taking action against perpetrators. Employers have a duty of care and a legal responsibility to all of their employees and staff should feel confident that work is a safe and supportive place to disclose issues of domestic abuse.

While every organisation is different, being prepared and knowing what to do, can make your workplace much safer. Finally, I want to finish with a military quote: ‘No plan, survives first contact with the enemy.’ In other words, expect the unexpected and be prepared to be flexible in your response to any workplace threat.


Robert Wells is the founder and director of Domestic Abuse Business Support (DABS). They  are supporting sufferers and survivors of domestic abuse in the workplace. 


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