Is Domestic Abuse an Occupational Health Issue?

11th May 2020

Domestic abuse involves the abuse of power and/or control over another individual, and this can come in many forms including; economic, emotional, physical, psychological, sexual and verbal. According to the Office for National Statistics, an estimated 2.0 million adults aged 16 to 59 years experienced domestic abuse (in the year ending March 2018). What’s more, 75% of those experiencing domestic abuse is actually targetted at work. Shockingly since lockdown began, calls to a national domestic abuse helpline rose by 49% and killings doubled.

These statistics are truly shocking, and show just how important it is that employers have the steps in place to be able to support employees affected by domestic abuse. But what about the role occupational health plays in recognising domestic abuse, and the way this may affect an individual at work? In this blog post, we explore the links between domestic abuse and the workplace, and the role occupational health may play in this.

Domestic Abuse at Work

The cost of domestic abuse to business is estimated at £1.9 billion a year, and this is due to a variety of reasons, from absenteeism to lost productivity and lower levels on concentration. It’s likely that someone being subjected to domestic abuse will be reluctant to speak about their situation, but there are some signs to look out for:

  • Increased levels of absenteeism, or turning up late to work (without proper explanation),
  • Change in characteristics (tearful, withdrawn, they may seem more anxious etc),
  • Changes in quality of work,
  • Lower levels of concentration and productivity,
  • Receiving upsetting phone calls or emails etc,
  • An obsession with the time,
  • Needing regular time-off for ‘appointments’, again with little explanation, and/or
  • Bruising or injuries.

A report by TUC looked into the effect domestic abuse has on a person at work, and found that over 40% of those who had experienced domestic abuse were prevented from getting to work by the abuser. 13% reported the abuse continuing in the workplace, and shockingly over 43% reported a partner turning up at their workplace or stalking them while at work. Where can occupational health help to play a part in supporting domestic abuse victims at work?

Involving Occupational Health

Whilst domestic abuse is not an occupational health issue, there is certainly no harm in being aware of the signs of domestic abuse, being geared with advice and helplines should a person be referred. Many of the reasons an employer may make an occupational health referral could be linked to the knock-on effect of a person being a victim to domestic abuse, such as higher levels of absenteeism. It can be extremely difficult for those affected to bring up their situation with the employer or line manager, and employees may feel more comfortable speaking with an occupational health advisor for example. In which case, occupational health should be equipt with the tools or resources for the employee to be able to access the support they need.

Advice to Employers

Every employer has the responsibility to address and support employees affected by domestic abuse. BITC has put together an excellent domestic abuse tool kit for employers, providing actionable advice to help recognise, tackle and prevent domestic abuse. From understanding the issue, to taking action and supporting employees, it’s an excellent place to start.

If you are thinking about making an occupational health referral, get in touch with our team today.

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