About domestic abuse

Employers have a duty of care which is a legal responsibility to provide a safe working environment for their staff. Stopping and addressing domestic abuse and providing support to employees who are experiencing abuse is a fundamental part of this.

This toolkit aims to aid employers on how to support their employees and help tackle domestic abuse.

What is domestic abuse?

Domestic abuse, as defined by the Domestic Abuse Act 2021 (legislation.gov.uk) is abusive behaviour between two people, aged 16 or over, who are personally connected to each other. This can include people who are, or have been married, in a civil partnership, in a relationship, have (or had) parental responsibility for a child or are related.

The act emphasises that domestic abuse is not just physical violence, but can also be:

  • Emotional
  • Online
  • Psychological
  • Sexual
  • Verbal
  • Coercive or controlling behaviour
  • Economic abuse
  • Harassment or stalking

Anyone can experience domestic abuse regardless of their gender, sexuality, social class, race, religion or disability.

In Somerset, we can estimate around 78,330 (17% of the population) will have experienced domestic abuse over their lifetime. On an annual basis, this equates to 23,960 individuals (5% of the population) every year who experience domestic abuse.

One of the simplest steps an employer can take to support their staff is to raise awareness, making their staff informed about what domestic abuse is.

It is also helpful to address the common myths around the issue – such as the idea that domestic abuse only happens to women, or it always involves physical violence. More information on misconceptions surrounding domestic abuse can be found here

Creating an environment that is open and transparent puts confidence in employees who are affected by domestic abuse, that they will be supported if they acknowledge that their relationship is abusive. Employers can then provide the right access to relevant support and signposting.

Spotting the signs of domestic abuse

It is not always easy to spot the signs that an employee is experiencing domestic abuse. Employers are not expected to be specialists in handling cases of domestic abuse. However, addressing the stigma, having a culture of open discussion and knowing where to get help can go a long way in supporting someone who is experiencing domestic abuse.

Knowing what to look for in an employee who may be experiencing domestic abuse

Changes to their work

  • Regular absences, lateness or need to leave early or during the day
  • Spending longer at work for no reason
  • Noticeable reduction in quality, quantity or performance of work
  • Increase in personal phone calls, texts and messages, avoidance of personal calls or annoyance at calls, texts and messages
  • Regular visits to work from their partner, ex-partner or relative
  • For homeworkers – difficult to contact or the constant presence of a partner or relative when in meetings

Behavioural changes

  • Conducting themselves in an out-of-character way
  • Becoming withdrawn, quiet, worried, tense, panicky, tearful, angry, distant or depressed
  • Becoming detached from other employees
  • Vague about home life, relationships or family
  • For homeworkers – suddenly or frequently not having the camera on in meetings

Physical signs

  • Alcohol, drugs or substance use
  • Constantly or regularly tired
  • Injuries that are unexplained or with an explanation that does not add up
  • Wearing clothes that are not appropriate for the climate (which may be used to conceal injuries or signs of physical abuse)
  • Increased or sudden lack of makeup

Other signs

  • Signs that they are being stalked or harassed by a partner, ex-partner or family member at work or online
  • Partner, ex-partner or family member making demands on work commitments
  • Appearing isolated from other employees, friends and family

You can access free training on spotting the signs of abuse, for you and your staff here

Domestic abuse and hybrid working

The Covid-19 pandemic has had a lasting effect on the way many employees work. Many organisations have continued to embrace the home working or hybrid method of working. Whilst this new way of working has many benefits for the employee, for someone experiencing domestic abuse work may be the only safe place that they go.

The shift to a new way of working means the position of employers tackling domestic abuse and supporting employees who are experiencing it has never been more important.

Top tips for employers who have home and hybrid workers

  • Make sure every employee has daily contact with a colleague
  • Make sure staff know the links to support services by making them available on the intranet, staff newsletter, staff blog or staff noticeboard
  • Give guidance to managers about the difficulties of working from home for an employee who is experiencing domestic abuse, and practical steps to support
  • Monitor what steps managers are taking to protect their teams from domestic abuse

Establishing a workplace policy

Every organisation is different, when establishing a workplace policy on domestic abuse it should reflect the type, size and framework of the organisation. The guidance should take into consideration changes as a result of Covid-19. A free template of a workforce policy can be found here

Having a conversation when domestic abuse is suspected

If an employee shows signs of experiencing domestic abuse it does not always mean the person is in an abusive relationship, there may be another reason for their behaviour. Even if they are experiencing abuse, they may not want to disclose it. Opening a conversation with an employee should be based on showing support if they are having any difficulties.

Use questions that are indirect and supportive. For example:

  • I have noticed that you seem distant, is everything alright?
  • Is there something troubling you? If you need a chat, I am here for you
  • How are you doing? If you need support with anything just let me know
  • How are you coping with the workload, do you need any extra support?

What to do if an employee discloses, they are experiencing domestic abuse

If an employee does open up and disclose that they are experiencing domestic abuse, it is crucial to have that conversation in a non-judgmental way. An employee who is experiencing domestic abuse who opens up about it will need to feel believed and that the conversation is confidential – these are two of the biggest barriers that people when considering reaching out for help.

  • Find somewhere safe and private to talk, where the employee will feel comfortable. For an employee who works from home, and who cannot come to the office, arrange to meet in a public space (inside or out).
  • Reassure them that you know it must be difficult to talk, that they are being courageous, and that the conversation will be in the strictest of confidence.
  • Unless you think they, their children or the organisation are in immediate danger, only make their situation known to anyone else if you are seeking help and support for them and let them know you will only do that after getting their approval.
  • Use open body language and give them space so they do not feel threatened.
  • If required, reassure them that you believe them and never be judgemental.
  • Avoid talking about blame or fault.
  • Be patient and give them time to speak.
  • Have the tissues at the ready – they may be distressed or cry.
  • Let them know you will contact the HR lead for domestic abuse if they are happy for you to do so and discuss what they would like shared with them.
  • Support them with leave or flexible working hours so that they can attend support appointments or allow them to have such appointments at work.
  • Allow them to use the organisation’s telephone or computer to access help.
  • Put a plan in place to make sure they are safe at work and at home.

Download our leaflet for more information ‘Staying safe at home, when you are experiencing domestic abuse’

Engaging with perpetrators of domestic abuse

An employer has a duty of care extended to perpetrators of domestic abuse.

Some signs to look out for that an employee may be a perpetrator of domestic abuse

  • Derogatory comments made by an employee about their partner, ex-partner or a member of their family
  • An employee expressing anger or annoyance at a partner, ex-partner or family member or blaming them for difficulties
  • Regular injuries indicating involvement in violence – bite marks, scratches, bruises or bruised knuckles
  • An employee who seems to have constant contact with their partner, ex-partner or family member either by text, messenger or phone
  • An employee constantly referring to their partner, ex-partner or family member’s behaviour
  • Using the work phone or computer or often on their mobile phone to track or harass their partner, ex-partner or relative

As with the signs of domestic abuse, there may be other reasons why an employee is showing this behaviour, but it does not always mean that they are a perpetrator of domestic abuse. Perpetrators often hide their abuse, appearing pleasant to people they come into contact with. An employer may find out an employee is being abusive because they disclose it (often following an angry outburst) through a complaint or by being informed by the police that there has been an incident.

If an employer suspects that an employee is a perpetrator of domestic abuse, it is important to put safety first – if you want to open a discussion with an employee have another member of staff with you or meet in a public place.

An employer should keep accurate, confidential records in case there is a need for legal proceedings or disciplinary against the employee.

An employer should make an employee who is abusive aware of the potential consequences of their actions

  • Criminal action
  • Long-term negative effects on the abused and their children
  • Separation from children
  • Loss of job, home, money
  • Damage to other family relationships

Perpetrators may need specialist expert help to change their behaviour. Keep the conversation going with them and advise them of the help that is available. There is a programme available in Somerset if the perpetrator wants to change their behaviour.

You can encourage an employee, but not force them, even by a disciplinarian, to attend such a course but they may be unhappy with their behaviour and want to learn how to change.


As defined by the Domestic Abuse Act 2021, children who see, hear or experience domestic abuse are recognised as victims in their own right. It is an employer’s responsibility under safeguarding, where they know a member of staff, who is a perpetrator of domestic abuse, or has a child or children to report the perpetrator, if the employer has concerns for the child or children’s safety.

Further resources

Somerset Domestic Abuse Service offers free, confidential, non-judgemental advice and support by trained professionals. The service is available to anyone who is experiencing domestic abuse – you will be believed.

Freephone: 0800 69 49 999

Last reviewed: September 26, 2023 by Jennifer

Next review due: March 26, 2024

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