16 Days of Action Against Domestic Violence
1. What is the "16 Days of Action against Domestic Violence" initiative, who is involved and when is it going to be?This is a campaign that runs from 25th November to 10th December. It is targeted at businesses to raise awareness and support employees in taking action against domestic violence in the workplace.
In general, an employer has an obligation to carry out risk assessments in respect of the health, safety and wellbeing of their employees. However, the campaign is aimed at encouraging employers to do more than the bare minimum and to provide support to those employees suffering from domestic violence.
The campaign is run by The Corporate Alliance, which is a registered national charity, founded in 2005 to work with businesses in addressing the issue of domestic violence in the workplace. The idea of The Corporate Alliance is to allow a variety of employers to collaborate ideas and to bring about change to address issues of domestic violence.
Members of the Alliance include major names such as:
- The Body Shop
- Sussex Police
- London Probation Trust
- Association of Chief Police Officers
- Simpson Millar Solicitors LLP
- National Centre For Domestic Violence
- Department of Health
- Sullivan & Cromwell LLP
- Devonshires Solicitors
2. What can businesses do to take action against domestic abuse and violence? – How best can they support their employees who are suffering?
The overall aim is to raise awareness but in terms of what employers can do, there is a lot including:
- Observe the behaviour of staff and act on any signs of change, for example a decrease in communication levels/confidence, bruising or other physical signs, changes to their dress style e.g. wearing a polo neck jumper on a warm day, changes to their performance.
- Listen to an employee and take any reports of domestic abuse very seriously. If an employee does have the courage to tell you they are suffering, do not doubt them and offer immediate assistance. It will have taken that individual a lot to come forward and disclose their situation.
- Explain to an employee the level of support you are able to provide, this may be allowing the employee to temporarily change their working hours/workload as it is likely that their performance will be affected.
- Ask the employee for their thoughts on the assistance you could provide, as this can often depend on the pattern/method via which the abuse is occurring, e.g. if they are receiving calls from the perpetrator at work – diverting their calls to a colleague initially could help or if the perpetrator is likely to turn up at work, agree with the employee what to tell colleagues to relay to him/her if they are asked where the employee is.
- Discuss with the employee how they travel to and from work, if the employee is travelling alone, it may be possible to arrange for a colleague to travel with the employee. This may mean the employee feels safer coming into work.
- Arrange to meet with the employee outside of work if they do not feel comfortable discussing the extent of their situation whilst at work.
- Keep in touch with the employee regularly to discuss their situation, it is important that the employee does not feel ignored or that they are treated to their detriment for speaking up.
- Record any incidents occurring whilst the employee is at work; be this emotional outbursts, threatening phone calls or visits from the perpetrator.
- Have a policy on domestic violence which provides guidance to not only sufferers but colleagues too. This can include details of local support groups/refuges so that employees know where help is available.
Another effective measure would be to have leaflets/posters in the toilets as employees may feel it easier to collect information from here rather than on a notice board in a busy corridor.
4 - What is an employer's legal obligation to protect employees in this regard? And 5 – what should an employer do if they find out an employee is a victim?
Employers have a duty of care towards employees in respect of their health, safety and wellbeing. The 4 main areas of legislation relating to health and safety in the workplace, including violence are:
- Health and Safety at Work Act 1974
- Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1992
- Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations 1995
- Health and Safety (Consultation with Employees) Regulations 1996.
An employer's legal duties extend to the emotional and physical wellbeing of employees.The legislation above sets out the legal duties placed on an employer, to address matters concerning the health, safety and wellbeing of their employees. This can include offering protection to the employee suffering from the abuse and also their colleagues e.g. where the perpetrator may attend the workplace or make threatening calls to the workplace.
When it is established that an employee is suffering from abuse; a risk assessment should be carried out as soon as possible, to establish how you can protect the employee and also their co-workers. This can involve an informal chat with the victim, they may ask for a fellow colleague to attend the informal meeting with them for support. The extent of their situation should be discussed as much as possible, a non-judgmental approach should be taken, suggestions for protective methods should be discussed and also the option of reporting the abuse to the police. It is important to make the employee feel supported in making their disclosure to you and that you acknowledge domestic abuse is to be taken seriously.
6 – And what should an employer do if they find out one of their employees is the perpetrator? Could this be grounds for disciplinary action? In what circumstances?
It is not a surprise that acts of domestic violence can be a criminal offence, however even where an employee has been charged with a criminal offence, this does not give the employer an automatic right to discipline or dismiss an employee.
The employer would have the right to discipline or dismiss an employee where their code of conduct specified such offence permits them to do so. However, it is important to note that the employer must follow the correct process in doing so.
In absence of a clear code of conduct which expresses that such conduct equals disciplinary/dismissal, an employer will need to look into the facts before taking action. The employer will need to assess whether there is a link between the employee's abusive actions, the role they are employed to carry out and also who that employee has contact with by virtue of their role, to assess the potential risk to employees and also the general public before they take action to discipline or dismiss an employee who is a perpetrator of domestic abuse.
Another important point to be considered by the employer is whether the perpetrator and the victim are both employed by the business. Should this be the case, the employer would need to take the necessary action to protect the victim whilst dealing with the perpetrator. This could involve putting in place temporary measures e.g. changes to duties/place of work, to ensure that the two parties are not in contact in the workplace until the perpetrator has been dealt with in the appropriate manner. If the perpetrator is to continue working for the business, a more permanent arrangement should be discussed with the victim and sufficient support offered.
7 – What training can be given to staff to help tackle domestic violence?
Practical training should be compulsory. This can be done as part of the employee's induction process and refreshed annually during the 16 days campaign. Effective training could include a checklist of what signs to look for and possible support available, also using fictitious case studies to highlight what conduct can constitute domestic violence.
National statistics can also be displayed on a visual aid to employees, to highlight just how much of a problem domestic violence is in the world and the positive message that victims will always be supported and the business has a zero tolerance approach to the acts of violence.It is important that all employees are aware of a support mechanism that is in place as it could be that an employee is not a victim when they join the organisation but they could later become a victim, hence why a refresher of the training on an annual basis during the 16 day campaign would be effective.Raising awareness and being clear regarding the support available both internally and externally is the key factor.