With domestic abuse charities reporting a surge in activity during the coronavirus lockdown, employers have been reminded of the many ways in which they can help potential victims.

Refuge, the UK’s largest domestic abuse charity, reported a 700 per cent increase in calls to its helpline in April, while the Met Police made nearly 100 arrests every day last month for domestic abuse offences.

These shocking statistics prompted the Home Office to provide an additional £2m to bolster domestic abuse helplines and online support. Meanwhile, a Home Office campaign, promoted under the hashtag #YouAreNotAlone, is encouraging the public to show solidarity for victims.

Support can and should be provided in the working environment, too.

“There are so many ways in which employers can help domestic abuse victims,” said Tracey Paxton, managing director of The Employee Resilience Company, a partner of BHSF.

“A supportive culture should be created which could encourage people to reveal if they have been subjected to some form of domestic abuse, help them recognise that this is not acceptable and enable them to seek help and support.”

Paxton added: “Lockdown has caused high levels of anxiety for those who are experiencing or feel at risk of domestic abuse.

“Furloughed workers may come under significant financial pressure, including financial abuse.

“Emotional support needs to be provided by the workforce. The most vulnerable need to be safeguarded and supported, now more than ever.

“Employers and line managers should create some actions to support employees. These could be regular one-to-one online meetings, drop-in sessions, or sending out weekly blogs or newsletters which signpost support services for domestic abuse victims.

“Employers need to ensure that line managers are trained in spotting signs and symptoms of domestic abuse and have the skills to initiate difficult conversations to support the employee.”

Paxton highlighted four signifiers of potential domestic abuse which employers should be mindful of:

  • frequent absence, lateness or needing to leave work early
  • reduced quality and quantity of work or missing deadlines
  • changes in the way an employee communicates; a large number of personal calls or texts, or a strong reaction to personal calls
  • physical signs and symptoms such as unexplained or frequent bruises or other injuries.

One in four women and one in six men will suffer from domestic abuse in their lifetime. Almost 2m people suffered domestic abuse in the UK in the last year alone.

And while the human cost is immeasurable, domestic abuse costs businesses £1.9bn every year due to decreased productivity, time off work, lost wages and sick pay.

Paxton said: “Policies should be developed, if not already in place, on how to deal with matters of domestic abuse.

“Employers could launch a communications exercise to raise awareness among the workforce or signpost to the organisation’s employee assistance programme or staff counselling service.

“They also might want to think about having trained staff in ‘response teams’ to be there to listen to potential victims and to help them make the right decisions on where to go next for advice and support.

“Employers can also offer flexible working arrangements so that staff are able to have time off work or the opportunity to work flexibly to enable them to seek protection or housing or arrange childcare.

“Help should always be available, it’s just about making employees aware and confident enough to use the services provided.”

The freephone, 24-hour National Domestic Abuse Helpline number – run by Refuge – is 0808 2000 247 or you can visit www.nationaldahelpline.org.uk.

Furthermore, BHSF RISE is a tailored mental health and wellbeing service which provides unlimited, ongoing specialist support built around an individual’s specific needs.