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Is domestic violence/abuse a workplace health matter?

In recent years there has been a switch in how health and safety at work is viewed, with a renewed and increasing focus on mental health and wellbeing. This change in focus is moving away from just our responsibility to be considerate of practical matters, such as risk assessment for workplace hazards; we now also bring our attention to the mental health of those in our workforces.

Some may question: ‘Why is mental health an employer’s responsibility?’

Firstly, because legislation makes it so. The Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 states that “employers have a responsibility to protect the health, safety and welfare of their workers, as far as is reasonably practicable”.

We know from research that there are many links between the physical form of the human body and our mental health. When considering workplace specific issues, we could initially look at an example of unrelenting workloads that leads to stress. We know that unmanaged stress can lead to burnout, with symptoms of burnout including both mental and physical complications.

Combine this context with the World Health Organisation’s definition of health, which doesn’t look at just the absence of illness, but instead suggests that health relates to a ‘state of complete physical, mental and social well-being’. We can now see how an employee’s state of mental wellbeing is closely related to their workplace health.

So how does domestic violence/abuse present as a workplace matter? Does it even relate?

Simply, the answer is ‘yes’ because domestic violence and abuse impacts the health of all individuals who experience it and because we know that whilst this feels like a problem that we would expect to remain in someone’s private life, the detrimental impacts are in fact wide reaching.

Data suggests that 75% of domestic abuse survivors are targeted at work, 40% of survivors are prevented from going to work by their abuser, and 2 in 3 survivors stated they felt safer at work than home.

This doesn’t include the amount of people who experience abuse away from their professional lives with data averages showing 1 in 4 women and 1 in 6 men experience domestic violence or abuse in their lifetime.

So we know many people in the workplace are living with experiences of abuse that are either a current risk/issue for them or are holding difficult memories from their past. For some, you will never know that they have experienced such difficulties, but for others the impacts may be far more visible and present.

We want to continue to support survivors whilst also protecting other colleagues from the collateral impacts that may present. Examples of these impacts could be through having to share workloads, potentially witnessing the survivors in a state of distress and panic, or potentially even having to have some form of contact with perpetrators of the abuse. This harm is not intentional, and it should never be projected to survivors as their problem but is something that we just cannot ignore.

We know that for those staff who are finding it hard to perform at their best level at work because of these experiences of abuse/violence, that they may need more support than staff who are not facing these issues. We may also find that for some, triggers of past trauma that occur in their work and personal lives can make it difficult for survivors to engage in daily tasks that others may not have to think twice about. The brain, for example, cannot recall and store information as effectively when it is in a state of stress or panic which could mean, for some, that the ability to perform and recall simple work tasks can be harder on some days than others if they have been faced with a trigger from their past stress and trauma.

This doesn’t have to end their ability to work or engage with so-called ‘normal’ activities. However, it does show that we need to develop our understanding and compassion in how we respond to survivors to give everyone the best chance possible to thrive after abuse and violence, whilst also reducing the potential impact to others affected in the workplace.

So how do we do that?

Firstly, we raise awareness and open the conversation. We must do this without judgment, creating a space of safety and validating the survivor’s experience.

Secondly, we need to make sure that we have appropriate mechanisms of assistance and steps in place that allow staff to be empowered, to access the help they need and to ensure that employees in management positions know what options they have available to them to support their team members.

Thirdly, we need to align what we say with what we do, as there is no value in having workplace protocol, policy and codes of conduct in place if when people need them the most they then find that they are ineffective or unable to implement.

The reality is, by not talking about domestic violence and abuse, the problem grows.

The more we stay silent about abuse and violence and the day to day impacts, the more we know survivors are silenced too and this must change.

If you want to know more and explore what you can do - contact us at and we can talk more about this.

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