Domestic Abuse – the Employer’s Challenge and their Opportunity!

I’ve worked in HR for over 40 years, the last 9 as a consultant. I remember only too well the focus on reducing sickness absence and the time spent analysing the statistics and reasons for absence along with the challenge of how absences were coded on the system and needing to move away from such practices as carers needing to ‘go of sick’ rather than apply for special leave for their caring responsibilities. 

Yet we never thought about one very critical issue which causes absence – domestic abuse – we were so busy with our heads ‘down’ that we  weren’t looking more holistically, until a very good friend asked me if I could help her daughter who was appealing a final written warning for short frequent sickness absence …… let’s call her Morag. 

The story unfolded over the next week or so. Morag was a victim of domestic abuse, she had numerous short frequent absences the majority of which were connected directly to the abuse… not letting her out of the house, having bruises which she couldn’t hide, being  injured and ashamed to say, her partner arguing with her all night and just too tired to come into work, hospital visits for injuries, having an in-depth knowledge of how to treat large burns at home that no one  else I knew would have had.

So, I did my research and learnt that my instinct to ‘rescue’ was not the right approach and what I needed to do was to help her keep herself safe and signpost her to those who had the expertise to help her.  I also got her warning reduced to a first written with occupational health support!

I then started to talk about the issues in my HR team and we were surprised at how conversations started to take place throughout our building and the number of people who were saying ‘that happened to me’. So much so that a young woman came to me, disclosed horrendous abuse and we developed a safety plan for her which included a code word which if used when she phoned in sick, we knew to phone her Mum who would then contact the police and go straight to her house. I saw the same young women two months later and she was walking taller and looked much more confident. She told me that she no longer felt ashamed.  I’d like to think that we empowered her to take some of her dignity back.  

Fast forward a number of years …. I was now running my own business and read an article in an HR magazine which said that over 80% of HR professionals believed that they had a duty of care towards victims of domestic abuse however less than 5 % had a policy. 

Well that just wasn’t good enough so myself and colleague Jo did the research!

Combining the figures for men and women – approximately 1 in 5 people are victims of domestic abuse. 

That means that for every 100 staff members: 

  • There will be 20 who are victims of domestic abuse
  • Businesses will lose 80 days a year– the majority of absence will be violence, restraint and threats 
  • 11 of the 20 will be late 5 times a month
  • 16 will get calls at work which will be distressing
  • The abuser will turn up at work for 9 of these 
  • 9 of these will have the abuser stalking them outside work
  • 17 of these will have their performance impacted on – distracted, unwell, tired
  • Colleagues of these 20 – a few may be threatened and for most there will be conflicts and tension
  • 10 will need time off but won’t be open about why

We pulled the available resources together (and there are lots available!) and produced a Policy and Manager’s Guide and started to share these with our clients, forums and quite frankly anyone who would listen to us!

We also developed the ‘3Rs’ as follows:

  • Recognise – that there is an issue

  • Respond – have the conversation

  • Refer – to those who can help

We have found that the biggest barrier to having the conversation in the workplace is managers being worried about how to do so and then having a responsibility to do something about it. As you can see from the ‘3Rs’ the responsibility is no different to having a conversation with someone about their work or any other issue which deserves a sit-down confidential conversation.  Managers and HR are not the right people to resolve the situation we need to refer to those who have the skills and knowledge to do so e.g. Woman’s Aid, Mankind etc. as well as counselling and related support. 

We know that having the ‘difficult conversation’ is a challenge for work related issues never mind something as sensitive as domestic abuse so we’ve also included support to undertake these conversations effectively in our managers guide.

If you’d like a copy of the policy and manager’s guide, they are available from my LinkedIn profile at  or email me on

If you’d like a word version then please just send me a message with your email address and I’ll send them to you. 

We have been delivering short sessions (free) for businesses and HR teams on the figures and the need for the policy so please just let me know if you’d like us to deliver this to you and your team. 

We need to reduce the stigma of domestic violence so please implement the policy and please start to talk about the issues as you will help reduce the stigma and support disclosure. The impact you will have will be unmeasurable!

 Dorothy now has a team of 12 Associates with a wide range of knowledge and experience in HR and senior management. We “Empower workplaces to be inclusive, productive, healthy and fair” through “enabling teams to identify, resolve and recover from conflict or challenging situations” and “facilitating teams to improve organisational performance” 

If you would like talk about supporting victims of domestic abuse in the workplace then please contact Dorothy  on 0131 524 8191 or 


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workplace investigations

when you need us

You have received a grievance, complaint, dignity @work claim etc. or there has been an incident at work where you need to properly establish what has happened, what actions if any need taken and you need to move forward for the best interests of the people involved and your business

You don’t have the capacity or capability to undertake this yourself or you need independence due to others in your organisation being already involved in the case in some way

what we do for you

You will get a report which is proportionate to the seriousness of the issue/s, covering the evidence gathered, any breaches of policies or procedures, conclusions on each allegation and where there has been a grievance recommendation for resolution and any learning identified

benefit to you

You will receive a report which supports you to clearly see what you need to do next, which holds its own in relation to appeals and other proceedings,
the highest level of independence which is critical particularly when the issues are complex and the knowledge that you and your issues are safe with us