ACAS guidance on supporting staff experiencing Domestic Abuse
ACAS has announced new advice for employers on how to support staff that are experiencing domestic abuse. An update to ACAS guidance “Working from home during the Coronavirus pandemic” now includes a section on domestic violence and abuse.
In June 2020, the government launched a review of how employers and the government could better support victims of domestic abuse at work. On 14 January 2021, the government published an open letter to employers calling on them to ensure their organisations are spotting signs of domestic abuse and helping their staff find the right support. It also published its report “Workplace support for victims of domestic abuse” which found that few employers are aware of the signs of domestic abuse, and an even smaller number have a clear policy in place to support survivors.
The report sets out “practical steps which employers can take to build awareness, develop and implement policies and procedures as well as signpost to specialist services”. It considers three main issues:
- Building awareness among employers and in workplaces – including being able to spot the signs of abuse, knowing how to respond to a disclosure from a member of staff, creating a supportive atmosphere and signposting domestic abuse organisations.
- Support in the workplace – including having a policy on domestic abuse, training for line managers and HR professionals, signposting to specialist services, access to counselling or other health-related services, access to time and space within work to make calls, flexibility and time out of work. The report includes other practical suggestions such as providing safe parking spaces.
- Employment rights – including individuals’ rights to take annual leave, request flexible working and take parental leave or time off for dependants to deal with the consequence of domestic abuse. The report also suggests employees may need more ad hoc flexibility such as time to manage appointments during working hours or temporary adjustments to working patterns or location of work to help with their safety.
Following publication of the government report, ACAS announced new advice for employers and updated its guidance, “Working from home during the coronavirus pandemic”. The guidance refers to the employer’s duty of care and states that employers should look out for signs of domestic abuse, respond appropriately, support someone who is experiencing domestic abuse and keep a record of incidents at work when employees report domestic abuse, and any actions taken.
The guidance suggests practical steps that employers can consider to support an employee if they are experiencing domestic abuse. These include:
- finding a way to communicate safely, for example by text message if calls are not possible;
- agreeing on a code word or hand signal for an employee to use to alert others that they are experiencing domestic abuse;
- arranging another place they can do work instead of at home;
- being flexible around working hours;
- time off, for example to attend support appointments; and
- helping the employee to get other appropriate support.
The guidance also recommends that employers consider having a domestic abuse policy, developed in consultation with employees and trade union or employee representatives. The policy should set out a clear commitment to taking the issue seriously, common signs of domestic abuse and the support available for employers and managers.
The open letter to employers makes clear that the government is “not asking that employers become specialists in handling domestic abuse, nor that colleagues should take on the role of healthcare workers or counsellors”. However, the report concludes that a lack of awareness of warning signs, stigma around talking about domestic abuse in the workplace, and a lack of knowledge about specialist services is preventing domestic abuse survivors getting the help they need in the workplace.
The government will establish a working group including employers, representatives of domestic abuse victims and trade unions to establish practical solutions that employers can implement in the workplace.
Useful sources of information
29 January 2021
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