Tackling domestic abuse in the workplace

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Samantha Whann, senior HR manager and Orla Barron, equality lead at Belfast Health and Social Care (HSC) Trust, talk about the importance of supporting employees who are experiencing abuse, and highlight a range of ways in which organisations can develop an effective support scheme.

Living free from abuse, be it physical, mental, social or financial, is a fundamental human right. However, in reality, one in four women and one in six men in the UK are affected by domestic abuse, with both their home and working lives being impacted as a result. Around 1.5 million employees experience domestic abuse each year. This can have a significant impact on the workplace, such as through reduced productivity, employee absence, presenteeism and unplanned leave. Despite this, domestic abuse is often not spoken about or recognised by employers.

At Belfast HSC Trust, we recognise the importance of having an effective domestic violence and abuse programme so we can appropriately support employees who are experiencing abuse. Around ten years ago, we developed a domestic abuse service for staff, being one of the first organisations within Northern Ireland to do so. The service is delivered by a group of staff from a range of different grades, geographical locations and professions in partnership with trade union colleagues. We provide best practice advice of the support service for trust staff at the Belfast domestic violence and sexual violence partnership, which includes representatives from the legal profession, the Police Service for Northern Ireland, Women’s Aid, Men’s Advisory Project, Northern Ireland Housing and other relevant community and voluntary bodies. Our primary motivation for developing and maintaining the service is to ensure the safety and independence of our staff, both at work and home, which ultimately falls under our responsibility to promote the health and wellbeing of our employees.

There are many measures that organisations can put in place to develop an effective domestic abuse strategy, depending on local requirements as well as resources available. At Belfast HSC Trust, our service includes the following:

  • domestic abuse policy (regularly reviewed)
  • awareness sessions for staff to help recognise potential signs of abuse
  • dedicated domestic abuse support service line for managers
  • employee access to a domestic abuse support officer practical support to help employees (for instance paying salaries into a new account)
  • signpost employees to appropriate external support
  • providing personal safety alarms.

As a trust, we have developed a service that continues to evolve and is inclusive of all genders, sexual orientations, community background and professions. By providing emotional, practical and financial support, our work has helped numerous employees who are living in abusive situations.

Our service has notably increased awareness of domestic violence that could be impacting on any member of our 22,000 staff. Feeling able to confide in colleagues has empowered staff and allowed them to make informed decisions regarding their future. Knowledge is power in this regard and we continue to provide training awareness sessions and promotional resources to advertise the service and to share best practice with others. 

We are delighted that the pioneering work of Belfast HSC Trust has paved the way for other organisations to develop similar schemes, united in putting staff first. There is a lot of support available to help your organisation develop an effective programme, such as these tips in taking the first steps and guidance around creating a domestic abuse policy. There can be no place in society for domestic abuse and together we are stronger in enforcing that message and putting it into practice.

For further information about domestic violence and how you can support your staff take a look at The Health, Safety and Wellbeing Partnership Group's web page.


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