Viewpoint | 03 Jul 2020

Domestic abuse: Are we employers doing enough to protect our colleagues?

Helen Lamprell, General Counsel and External Affairs Director, Vodafone UK, issues a rallying cry to all businesses to increase their efforts in the fight against domestic abuse.

Lockdown has caused a massive increase in calls to domestic abuse charities. As employers we need to face up to the fact that those suffering abuse will be our own employees and colleagues. The statistics are clear: 1 in 4 women and 1 in 6 men will experience domestic abuse in their lifetime, so there will be both victims and abusers in your company.

The Domestic Abuse Bill is currently going through Parliament to strengthen existing laws, and reducing domestic abuse is a subject that Theresa May remains passionate about. On Thursday 2 July she spoke to the Employers’ Initiative on Domestic Abuse (EIDA) and highlighted the important role that businesses can play.

So what more should we, as employers, be doing?

We can partner with domestic abuse charities and make donations to help the excellent work they do, of course. And I’m proud that Vodafone has a close relationship with SafeLives and Hestia. Vodafone Foundation, our charitable arm, has supported Hestia in the development of the BrightSky domestic abuse app.

But we shouldn’t become complacent and think that this is all we need to do. We have to look within our own organisations and take practical steps to help. EIDA provides useful information to get you started if you don’t know how.

Spotting the signs

But even companies like Vodafone, who already have policies in place, should be asking whether our own employees are really receiving all the help they need.

Are we giving our line managers enough training on how to spot the signs of domestic abuse? Should we be accelerating our return-to-office plans for those for whom a release from the pressure-cooker domestic environment could literally be life-saving?

This is an issue that affects us all

Domestic abuse is one of those insidious evils that can go unnoticed, particularly during lockdown when our interactions are online. We’re less likely to spot suspicious-looking bruising, for example, or too easily accept the excuse that someone doesn’t want to go on video because they “haven’t washed their hair”. How do we know the real reason for the apparent shyness isn’t to hide bruising to the face? Have we noticed a colleague becoming withdrawn and unresponsive during online meetings, or having to ring off because of the demands of a partner?

If we have a list of people we know to be vulnerable, how often are we checking in on them? Are we increasing the frequency of contact during lockdown? If anyone is in a difficult situation, are we sure they know who they can talk to?

And are we carrying out due diligence, such as checking whose bank account an employee’s salary goes into? Could this be a sign of a coercive and controlling relationship?

Greater awareness

These are the many challenges we should be facing up to during this difficult period. For our part, we have updated our ‘Toolkit on domestic violence and abuse at work’ to include specific advice for managers related to lockdown and Covid-19, emphasising the need for greater vigilance, communication and sensitivity.

Vodafone has been a strong supporter of EIDA since its inception and over 300 businesses have now signed up. This network of businesses has committed to raising awareness of domestic abuse among employees and supporting those who are affected. This is one practical way to lift the lid on a crime that often takes place unseen behind closed doors.

And it is heartening to see action taken by other companies, too. For example, Boots, Superdrug and Morrisons have teamed up with Hestia and now offer safe spaces in their stores where people can seek refuge in confidence and call helplines or access online information.

As employers, our responsibility is to give our colleagues the support and training they need; to raise awareness internally and externally about the issue; and to publicise all the sources of help available to anyone in an abusive relationship – or anyone who is worried on behalf of someone else.

There are practical things we can all do to help because this is an issue that affects us all.