Domestic abuse: spotting the signs and supporting staff

Nicola Jagielski from Health Assured gives some advice on how managers can handle situations where staff are suspected victims of domestic abuse.

Domestic Violence


In the year ending March 2020, an estimated 2.3 million adults experienced domestic abuse in England and Wales. While both men and women experience domestic abuse, of the 2.3 million adults, 1.6 million were women. With most office workers, working remotely from March 2020, this may have reduced potential escape routes for women from abusive situations and the number of reported domestic abuse incidents has increased.

It is crucial, therefore, that employers recognise that any member of their workforce could be subject to domestic abuse, and in some cases, the victim may not realise that the behaviour towards them is abuse. To this effect, Business Minister Paul Scully has written an open letter to employers offering guidance on how they can support survivors.

In his letter, he emphasises that he is not asking employers to become specialists in handling domestic abuse, nor for colleagues to take on the role of healthcare workers or counsellors. However, colleagues and managers can often be the only people outside the home that survivors talk to each day, and they are uniquely placed to help spot signs of abuse. These signs could include an individual becoming more withdrawn than usual, sudden drops in performance or mentioning controlling behaviours in their partner.

If a manager suspects that an employee is being subjected to domestic abuse, but has no evidence, great care must be taken. The manager should give the employee an opportunity to confide in them but should not question the employee or put any undue pressure on them to discuss the situation. If an employee is clearly distressed but will not confide in the manager, the manager should suggest that the employee contact the HR department or some other suitable person.

It is always advisable to encourage a working environment where employees feel they can come forward about personal issues of this regard and talk openly about any concerns that they may have. It is also important to be receptive to the varying needs of the individual.

If an employee confides in a manager that they are being subjected to domestic abuse, the manager should treat all conversations as serious, and, importantly, as confidential. However, the manager should not get themselves involved in the situation by, for example, confronting someone accused of being abusive or by trying to solve the situation for the employee. The manager’s role should primarily be to help the employee find expert help and to be supportive.

Further support can include regularly checking in with the affected employee, allowing the employee time off where necessary. Employers should also signpost any Employee Assistance Programme services they may offer. Confidential, secure helplines are a blessing for those in danger. Employers don’t need to communicate their usefulness in the face of domestic abuse specifically, but make sure to reinforce their confidentiality about any issue.

*Nicola Jagielski is Associate Director Clinical Services at workplace wellbeing and mental health provider Health Assured.

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