Lawyer and union call on business to support domestic violence victims

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Survey reveals a widespread policy gap and lack of awareness in Yorkshire


Yorkshire's leading businesses are failing to take positive steps to support and protect employees who may be victims of domestic violence, a survey has revealed the week before the TUC's Domestic Violence seminar in Leeds.

From a sample of 40 of Yorkshire's largest 150 companies*, not a single one had a domestic violence policy in place - leaving HR staff and managers in the dark when it comes to dealing with employees who may suffer abuse at home.

"I am not surprised that the majority of companies still don't have a Domestic Violence policy in place, but that we were unable to find a single one from such a prestigious group of organisations was still a bit of a shock. Domestic violence remains a topic that is all too often swept under the carpet; we need a concerted effort from employers to bring it into the light," said Emma Pearmaine who is head of Family Law at Simpson Millar.

Emma is also an Ambassador for the Corporate Alliance against Domestic Violence (CAADV) - an organisation launched by Baroness Scotland to help employers protect their employees through a number of cost-neutral measures.

Over a seven year period, from 2003 - 2007, the government reduced domestic violence by 64% as a result of a targeted campaign led by the Baroness. In London, the number of women who died each year from domestic violence was reduced from 47 to just 5. In that five-year period, the cost to businesses was reduced from £2.7billion to £1.9billion – proving that this truly is a commercial issue.

"Victims are often afraid to let their employers know that they are suffering - worried that it might reflect poorly on their competencies and have a negative impact on their future careers," said Emma, and added: "Although some of the HR people we spoke to were sympathetic towards the issue and interested in learning how they could do more to support staff in this regard, many were unaware that this was in fact a business issue. But it should be - not least when you consider that the cost of losing a senior member of staff can be as high as £250,000. Valued employees end up handing in their notice because they cannot cope with a both demanding job and such severe problems at home."

"Domestic violence is both an ethical and financial issue for businesses. Problems at home cause staff to take time off work, claiming ill health to cover up for a more serious problem. Health and wellbeing policies are increasingly implemented in acknowledgement that a healthy and happy workforce is more productive. A Domestic Violence policy should go hand in hand with health and well being. Most of the steps businesses can take in supporting staff are entirely cost neutral but the benefits are hugely significant," said Emma.

Amongst women between the age of 15 and 44, a large proportion of whom are working, domestic violence is the single greatest cause of injury and illness. The TUC's Domestic Violence seminar will be held in Leeds on 16 October for trade union representatives across the region to learn more about what businesses can do to support victims of domestic violence.

Bill Adams, Yorkshire & the Humber TUC Regional Secretary said: "The impact of domestic violence is rarely confined to home and has an impact at work. It's in everyone's interests for employers across Yorkshire & the Humber to become alert to this issue and recognise the important role they can play. Workplaces are part of the solution and I'd urge employers to work with trade unions and the Corporate Alliance Against Domestic Violence to ensure that clear policies are in place to help prevent the sustained misery of those experiencing abuse. A small change could make a big difference."

Emma pointed out some of the logistical challenges of leaving an abusive partner that employers can help solve. "For a working mum without an immediate support network, finding the time to drop off and collect children from nursery or school alongside holding down a 9-5 job is often simply impossible. Factor in not wanting colleagues or managers to know and you are facing an unimaginable level of stress. Keeping a job is often crucial to someone’s well-being and their ability to provide for their family. By offering a bit of extra flexibility, employers will play a significant role in helping a member of staff through a difficult time at very little cost - almost certainly reaping the reward of gratitude and loyalty in return."

Businesses can seek assistance from the Corporate Alliance Against Domestic Violence in the form of toolkits for implementing and thereafter managing a Domestic Violence policy, as well as ongoing support for HR staff as they begin to provide support to victims in the workplace.

*The Simpson Millar Domestic Violence Policy Survey asked HR Managers and Directors from Yorkshire’s largest 150 companies (according to the 2013 BDO Yorkshire Report) a single question: "Has your company got a Domestic Violence policy in place."


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