This year has been a uniquely difficult one for businesses across the world. Employers and employees alike have faced an unprecedented set of challenges. And although the Coronavirus pandemic has affected countries differently, and the response of governments across the world has varied, there are some common threads running through the experience of global citizens.

Sadly, one such common thread is an increase in cases of domestic abuse. Here in the UK, during the first lockdown which began in March, we saw a distinct spike in calls to domestic abuse helplines and reported cases of domestic abuse. And the charity Refuge have reported that during England’s current second lockdown, calls to their domestic abuse helpline are rising week on week.

But as has so often been the case during this pandemic, for every negative effect there has been a positive and corresponding display of help and action. The UK Government has stepped up support, with a recently announced £10 million fund to support survivors of domestic abuse, and business too, is taking decisive action to use their unique vantage point and provide a private source of support for employees who may be experiencing abuse, as well as to deliver training and education to staff on how to spot signs of abuse and help someone who may be suffering.

And if motivation to act were needed, it’s worth noting that the cost of domestic abuse to business is estimated at £1.9bn – in the form of decreased productivity, time off work, lost wages and sick pay. It’s clear that there’s not just a moral imperative to act. There is a bottom-line argument to be made for tackling domestic abuse through the workplace too.

With various parts of the UK currently affected by local lockdowns and a winter of uncertainty approaching, we’re calling on businesses to take practical steps to support their employees and make a difference. And we know that HR professionals are often the best placed people to do this in the workplace.

Examples of simple quick to implement measures that companies might consider are:

  • Assigning buddies to ensure no one working from home has a whole day without colleague contact
  • Adding support service contact details to company intranets, for example Refuge, and the Men’s Advice Line
  • Encouraging all staff to download the free BrightSky app which provides advice for anyone who suspects their friend or colleague is being abused

And if time and money allow, there are various levels of training that can be implemented, from distribution of information to managers, such as the EIDA’s Toolkit for Employers, or the CIPD’s guidance, to booking a specialist organisation to come and train a network of domestic abuse support staff.

Several organisations offer training for workplaces, many of which are free. They can upskill managers and HR teams to recognise signs of experiencing and perpetrating abuse. It isn’t enough to look out for a black eye or a dominant partner waiting outside, signs of abuse are myriad and complex. For example, changes in a person’s behaviour may vary from frequent absence and lateness, to needing to leave work early; a drop in usual performance standards; or a large number of personal calls and texts that induce a strong reaction. Would your staff recognise these as signs of control and abuse?

Directors also have to understand the responsibilities employers have to those staff. The immediate emotional response might be obvious, but are they aware of the legal ramifications of responding correctly to a report of abuse? It might be a surprise to learn that legislation, including the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 and Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1992, cover domestic abuse reporting. Safe Lives and Women’s Aid are just two charities that offer bespoke training for employers and their staff.

It’s clear that however efficient the rollout of potential vaccines, the effects of the Coronavirus pandemic will be with us for some time to come, and in many cases the changes that businesses have made in response to the pandemic will become permanent, with more employees working from home than ever before. It’s therefore more vital than ever that businesses step up to tackle the shadow epidemic of domestic abuse. Because domestic abuse is all our business.