The Impact of Domestic Abuse on the Workplace

A blog from Behind Closed Doors

Behind Closed Doors, a local Mindful Employer Charter Signatory, is a Leeds-based charity that works with women and men whose lives have been, or are, affected by domestic violence and abuse.

Lizzi Trueblood, Service Development Manager, discusses the impact that domestic abuse has on the workplace and gives advice for employers on how to support colleagues experiencing domestic abuse. 

Lisa is a quiet, hardworking employee; she’s good at her job. The problem with Lisa is the numerous absences due to sickness and her record of poor time keeping. A high absence rate and continual lateness is obviously an issue for any employer. Lisa’s employer sought to address this through two disciplinary hearings over the course of a year. 
During this time, as well as being good at her job, Lisa was also good at hiding what was really going on. She lived in a world where home wasn’t safe, and work was a place where she was reprimanded for things that, at the time, were out of her control. 

Lisa was a victim of domestic violence and abuse.
It took a serious injury that Lisa could no longer hide, for the nightmare she was living to be exposed and for her to seek the help and support she needed. 

Her employer missed multiple opportunities to spot the signs and support Lisa. Whilst it’s unjust to attribute the full weight of responsibility to Lisa’s employer, their actions did contribute to Lisa’s situation and they cost. Her employer paid a high price for the time and energy they invested in two disciplinary hearings; and they cost Lisa physically, emotionally and psychologically, by prolonging the amount of time she spent in her abusive relationship, simple because no one asked “is everything ok at home”. 

It’s estimated it costs employers around £7000 per individual through loss of productivity and outputs due to the impact of domestic violence and abuse (Oliver et al 2019). Can you afford to pay the price? Can you ignore your moral and business critical duty to act?  If there’s a Lisa in your office read on to find out more about how you can respond. 

Domestic violence and abuse is a complex issue affecting 1 in 4 women and 1 in 6 men in the UK in their lifetime (SafeLives). It happens in every ethnic group, social class, type of intimate relationship, culture and area of Leeds, with around 6 incidents reported to Police in Leeds every hour (West Yorkshire Police). Like Lisa, in the workplace those experiencing domestic violence and abuse will miss at least three working days per month and may be late for work at least 5 times a month (Walby 2010).

If you suspect someone in your workplace may be experiencing domestic violence and abuse you should watch out for the following signs

•    Physical injuries that they make excuses for; or maybe they are always covered up, even in summer.

•    Often absent from work due to sickness or last minute appointments.
•    Often stays late at work and never takes their entire annual leave. 

•    Seldom socialises outside of work. 

•    Constantly checking their personal phone and taking numerous calls for what they call ‘family emergencies’ 

•    Gets picked up and dropped off by their partner/family member every day.

These are just some of the signs, although it’s important to note that each one is a piece of a jigsaw, and you should be careful about jumping to conclusions if you spot one of the signs. You need to piece the jigsaw together to give you the full picture. If the pieces of the jigsaw start to create a picture of someone who you think is experiencing domestic violence and abuse the best thing you can do is ask them. 

Find a quiet moment and confidential space and ask some direct questions like “how are things at home”; “does he/she make you do things you don’t want to?” “How are you feeling about going home tonight?”; “can I get you some information about someone who can help?” 

Don’t ask them why they haven’t left yet, it’s often not that simple. Don’t tell them to leave or what to do next. Evidence tells us that the risk to the individual actually increases when they leave. Get them some help from a professional, if that’s what they want. Do reassure them that it’s not their fault, as it never is. The perpetrator of the violence/abuse is always to blame.  

There are lots of ways you as an employer can support those experiencing domestic violence and abuse across Leeds, from posting information on your intranet, to educating your workforce to spot the signs. If you’d like to find out more about how Behind Closed Doors can help you please contact Lizzi on[email protected] or 07940 389 398. 

If you are interested in writing an Employer Blog for this newsletter please get in touch with the Mindful Employer Coordinator via [email protected]