Employer support for victims of domestic abuse should be ‘business as usual’

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By Kristy Dorsey

Employers are being asked to make workplace support for victims of domestic abuse “business as usual”, with findings from a new report indicating that few organisations are aware of how to spot the early warning signs.

The rallying call by UK Business Minister Paul Scully comes as the Government’s Domestic Abuse Bill reaches the final stages of its passage through Parliament. Described as “ground-breaking” legislation, the bill’s progress has been delayed for three years by two general elections, the controversial prorogation of Parliament in 2019, and the Covid pandemic.

In an open letter to all UK employers, Mr Scully said a lack of awareness and the stigma around domestic abuse has “for too long” stopped workplaces from putting in the kind of help that victims require.

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“I know from personal experience that both bosses and colleagues are in a unique position to help spot the signs of domestic abuse and ensure survivors get the support they need so they no longer have to suffer in silence,” he said.

“That’s doesn’t mean making employers into counsellors or healthcare workers, but the actions I’ve outlined today – which can be as simple as providing a safe space to talk – can have a life-changing impact on survivors.”

Some of the most common warning signs are changes in a person’s behaviour, a sudden drop in performance, mentions of controlling of coercive behaviour in partners, or physical signs such as bruising.

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In light of new findings from the Government’s review into workplace support for domestic abuse victims, Mr Scully has announced plans to consult on steps that can be taken so survivors can better exercise their existing employment rights, such as the right to request flexible working. A working group will also be assembled to establish practical solutions that employers can implement in the workplace.

The report found that stereotyping of the types of people that can be affected by domestic abuse is hindering support, despite clear evidence that it can happen to anyone regardless of gender, age ethnicity or economic status. Although women suffer disproportionately, most recent figures from Police Scotland listed a man as the victim in 18 per cent of all incidents recorded in 2017-18.

The Domestic Abuse Bill will for the first time create a statutory definition of abuse that includes emotional, coercive and economic abuse as well as physical violence. It also contains a range of measures to better protect and support survivors and their children.

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