On 14 January 2021, BEIS published its report on improving workplace support for victims of domestic abuse following its review last summer. The report sets out best practices for employers and BEIS’ proposed next steps. These include a recommendation that all organisations should, wherever possible, implement a domestic abuse policy and train ‘champions’ to recognise signs of abuse as well as other workplace support measures. Going forwards, BEIS intends to establish a working group to drive culture change and best practice, and issue a government consultation into making flexible working the default. Following the BEIS report, Acas updated its advice on homeworking during the pandemic to include advice on how to support staff that are experiencing domestic abuse.
An estimated 2.4 million adults in the UK aged 16 to 74 experienced domestic abuse in the year ending March 2019. This has been compounded in 2020 with rising levels of unemployment brought on by COVID-19, furlough, economic uncertainty and the impact of increased home working, self-isolation and lockdown. It is therefore not surprising that the issue has drawn the attention of the government, CIPD and Equality and Human Rights Commission. Given the extent of the issue, employers should start taking steps now to tackle the issue as a business matter.
In more detail
The key points from the BEIS report and updated Acas guidance are set out below. We have also written an article discussing the potential workplace and legal impact of domestic abuse, as well as the role employers can play in providing a safe and supportive working environment for all staff. For more information, please click here for our article on “Employers – Shining a light on domestic abuse”.
Best practices for employers
- Organisations should, wherever possible, implement a policy on domestic abuse
- Policy should set out signs of domestic abuse, roles and responsibilities, education and training, steps to ensure safety in the workplace, as well as what the employer can practically offer in terms of financial assistance, flexibility and paid leave
- Policy should be embedded into the employer’s wider organisational frameworks
- Employers should work closely with trade unions and organisations specialised in supporting victims of domestic abuse in shaping the policy and approach
- Other workplace support measures include:
- effective signposting of domestic abuse policies / where to get support to employees
- having domestic abuse champions who are trained to identify signs of abuse, respond to victims, and able to refer employees for specialist advice and help
- practical support such as paying salaries into separate accounts, additional financial assistance, access to counselling or other health-related services, access to time and space within work to make calls and other arrangements
- security and safety measures in and around the place of work, such as informing security, providing safe parking spaces, accompaniment on public transport, and ensuring that information about employee whereabouts is not accessible. Particular care needs to be taken where the perpetrator works with the employee
- having a robust approach to perpetrators or employees showing abusive behaviours
BEIS will establish a working group of government, employers, representatives of domestic abuse victims and trade unions to meet regularly to establish practical solutions and to drive culture change and best practice. Their work will involve looking at:
- how to develop safe and inclusive workplace environments, where victims can feel confident to disclose domestic abuse
- how to support victims in a variety of situations, for example, where domestic abuse impacts on safety in the workplace, leads to performance issues, and where the victim works with the perpetrator
- how to best support employers, for example, by developing specific products such as model policies, guidance as well as through education and training
- how to reach large and small employers nationally, regionally and locally
Consultation on flexible working
Evidence provided to the BEIS review showed that flexibility can be helpful to enable victims to access the support they need but that there were various barriers in place. As a result, BEIS is planning to consult on how to take forward the government’s manifesto commitment to “encourage flexible working and consult on making it the default unless employers have good reason not to” and consult on the steps which can be taken for victims of domestic abuse, for example, how to exercise their existing employment rights more effectively.
The BEIS report can be found here.
The updated “Working from home during the coronavirus pandemic” guidance includes a new section on domestic violence and abuse. The guidance reminds employers that they have a legal duty of care to their employees and should:
- look out for signs of domestic abuse
- respond appropriately
- support someone who is experiencing domestic abuse
- keep a record of incidents at work and when employees report domestic abuse, and any actions taken
The Acas guidance also reiterates the best practices set out in the BEIS report including implementing a domestic abuse policy. The Acas guidance can be found here.