When working from home is not safe

A new helpline for employers will help them signpost employees who are victims of domestic abuse to the support they need.

Domestic Violence


A new advice line for businesses supporting employees experiencing or at risk of domestic abuse has been launched by crisis support charity Hestia.

The advice line aims to increase awareness of domestic violence and signpost employees to the support they need and comes at a time when domestic violence has been increasing during lockdown when many workers have had to stay at home.

It is estimated that a quarter of women and one in six men will experience domestic abuse at some point in their lifetime. Hestia says it has seen a 47 per cent increase in victims reaching out for information and support on its free domestic abuse app, Bright Sky, since the coronavirus pandemic started.

The Everyone’s Business Advice Line is designed to be a point of contact for businesses, supporting them on how to approach disclosures of domestic abuse by their employees.  It builds on the existing Everyone’s Business programme  which aims to increase awareness and support in the workplace. Hestia has worked with over 70 organisations on this, from the Metropolitan Police to Balfour Beatty, helping them to shape domestic abuse policies, for instance, giving victims emergency loans to help them get away from their abuser or providing lunchtime webinars where they can get the information they need or hear from victims who have got help and got out of dangerous situations.

Hestia says businesses play a significant role in supporting those who experience domestic abuse. However, research by the TUC shows that, whilst 86 per cent employers agree they have a duty of care to support employees experiencing domestic abuse, fewer than one in three victims disclose the abuse at work, citing ‘shame’ and ‘privacy’. Hestia also points out that domestic abuse costs employers upwards of £14 billion every year, based on reduced employee productivity and lost output due to time off work.

What employers can do

Lyndsey Dearlove, Head of Everyone’s Business Advice Line at Hestia, says the helpline will offer advice on how employers can support employees who are victims of domestic abuse, for instance, by listening to them without judgement, offering them a safe space and connecting them to specialist services that can help.

She adds: “During lockdown working from home has been an incredible opportunity for many, but for some home is not a safe place and they go to work to escape. Abusers may also be working at home and their ability to control their partner may have increased. Before Covid victims might have had opportunities to access support – for instance, on the school run or on the commute or at work.”

Hestia helps employers get victims the support they need by posting information on the work intranet, letting them use work emails or phones to access support or getting them to come into the workplace where they will not be monitored. Dearlove says every employee will have a different situation and that employers often come up with their own ideas of how they can help in a particular set of circumstances. Line managers are often the first port of call and so it is important that they know how to signpost people to support.

Although many victims don’t tell anyone about what is happening, for example, out of a fear of it affecting how they are seen at work, greater awareness of the support available, for instance, in the form of domestic violence champions at work, can help build reassurance, says Dearlove. Spotting the signs that someone may be the victim of abuse can be more difficult if employees are working remotely, she adds. There may, for instance, be a sense on a Zoom call that an employee is being monitored or is uncomfortable; their work may be suffering. It’s not necessarily about one big incident, but about a pattern of coercive behaviour. “If we can create more people in the community who are aware of the signs, are open to listening and who are confident about responding that can only help. And once victims have accessed help through the helpline it can help them realise they can get out of their situation,” says Dearlove, adding that it can take time for individuals to work out what might work for them.

*For more information and the contact details, visit https://www.hestia.org/everyonesbusiness

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