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Bad for People, Bad for Business – when domestic abuse collides with the workplace

30th May, 2019

Louise Aston

Awareness of mental health and how it can affect the workplace has come on in leaps and bounds in the last decade. Yet, domestic abuse and its impacts in work is still in the foothills, perhaps the last workplace taboo.

However, increasing understanding of this crime means responsible employers are now ready to take action and shine a light on the far-reaching consequences of this abuse. They recognise that one in four women and one in six men experiencing domestic abuse in their lifetimes [i].

By definition, domestic abuse may happen at home behind closed doors, but it has far reaching consequences and has an impact on the working lives of those living with an abusive partner.

Its impact on the workplace is immense with the cost estimated at £1.9 billion a year from lost productivity, absenteeism and sick pay[ii].

With 75% of people experiencing domestic abuse targeted at work[iii], all employers have a duty of care and a legal responsibility to provide a safe and supportive work environment.

Sarah’s story; the reality of domestic abuse

Sarah is a successful professional woman but struggling to reconcile the high-achieving side of her life with the fact that she is in an abusive relationship with her partner.

Sarah’s story started when her partner thumped Sarah in the stomach when she was 7 months pregnant. She went to hospital, but rather than telling the consultant the truth, she said that she had fallen downstairs. Fortunately, the baby wasn’t physically harmed.

After her son was born, Sarah’s partner continued to physically abuse her and persistently undermined her ability as a mother, causing her to doubt herself and lose her self-worth. Sarah developed anxiety and depression which led to sleep deprivation and suicidal thoughts.  

As a result, the quality of Sarah’s work deteriorated. She was receiving up to 100 toxic text messages a day, numerous phone calls and sometimes her partner would intimidate her by standing for hours on the pavement outside her office window.

Sadly, Sarah didn’t feel able to disclose the terrible experience she was going through because she believed that it could jeopardise her career. She wasn’t convinced that her employer would be supportive as there was no corporate acknowledgement that colleagues might be experiencing domestic abuse and no policy, guidelines or any other visible support.

Sarah’s story isn’t unique. An estimated 1.9 million adults aged 16 to 59 experienced domestic abuse in the UK last year[iv], many of whom turned up to work but struggled in silence.

Definition of Domestic Abuse

Any incident or pattern of incidents of controlling, coercive, threatening behaviour, violence or abuse between those aged 16 or over who are, or have been, intimate partners or family members regardless of gender or sexuality.

The abuse of power and control over one person by another can take many different forms including:

·       Psychological

·       Physical

·       Sexual

·       Emotional

·       Verbal

·       Economic


The Facts

·       1 in 4 women and 1 in 6 menwill experience domestic abuse in their lifetimes[v]

·       75% of those experiencing domestic abuse are targeted at work, including social media, telephone calls or stalking[vi]

·       £1.9billion is the estimated cost of domestic abuse due to decreased productivity, time off work, lost wages and sick pay[vii]

·       54% of employers said that domestic abuse caused the quality of an employee’s work to suffer, 56% said it led to absenteeism[viii]

·       86% of HR leads agree that employers have a duty of care to provide support to employees on the issue of domestic abuse[ix]

·       Only 5% of employers have specific policies or guidelines on the issue abuse

·       Less than 1% of employees disclosed to employers over the previous 12 months


Actions for Employers

Fuel the debate by implementing Business in the Community’s Toolkit for employers  (link to https://wellbeing.bitc.org.uk/all-resources/toolkits/domestic-abuse-toolkit) co-produced with Public Health England, consolidates the best evidence, employer practice and freely available resources.

3 calls to action:

1.     Acknowledge

Use the toolkit to help understand the issues and acknowledge every employer’s responsibility to address domestic abuse. Enable colleagues to openly discuss the topic and provide a supportive workplace.

2.     Respond

Review your policies and processes to ensure you are providing a supportive workplace and can respond to disclosure.

3.     Refer

Provide access to organisations who can help employees affected by the issue.


Join Employers’ Initiative on Domestic Abuse (link https://eida.org.uk/) a network of 260 companies providing information to employers to help them support employees who are facing domestic abuse, or are perpetrators.


[i] Ons.gov.uk People, population and community

[ii] S.Walby, The Cost of Domestic Violence, 2009

[iii]Corporate Alliance Against Domestic Violence

[iv]Ons.gov.uk.uk People, population and community

[v]Corporate Alliance Against Domestic Violence

[vi]Ons.gov.uk People, population and community

[vii]Corporate Alliance Against Domestic Violence

[viii]S.Walby, The Cost of Domestic Violence, 2009

[ix]‘Domestic Violence and Abuse: Working together to transform responses in the workplace’, Durham University for The Vodafone Foundation 2018


Louise Aston

Louise Aston is Wellbeing Director for Business in the Community. In the context of responsible business, the aim of BITC’s Wellbeing Campaign is to create environments where individuals and organisations can be at their best by taking a preventative, whole person, joined up approach to physical, mental, financial and social health.

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