How to support employees suffering from domestic abuse at Christmas

Thursday December 22, 2022

Millions of workers across the country looking forward to their Christmas and New Year breaks. However, those subjected to domestic abuse may be dreading the holiday season.

The festive period always sees a marked rise in domestic abuse. For those suffering, the home is not a safe place and the office can be their safe haven.

Victims of domestic abuse are from all walks of life – all ages, sex and race. So be aware this could be happening to one of your employees.

Abuse increases at Christmas

Christmas and New Year is a time where families are together for a sustained period of time and, let’s face it, it can be stressful for even the happiest of families.

In the year ending December 2021, the Gardai responded to 48,400 incidents of domestic abuse – a 10% increase on 2020.

Statistically one woman a week dies as a result of domestic abuse.

Domestic abuse poses a serious threat to the personal safety of millions of people, but there can be a stigma around bringing personal problems in to work. However, when trouble at home threatens an employee’s health, well-being and ability to work, employers have a duty of care to show their support.

In-person or virtual – look out for the signs

Spotting an employee experiencing domestic abuse is not always obvious. So, learning the signs and symptoms to look out for can be critical in saving someone’s life. Here are some examples:

  • Unexplained absences or lateness. Many abusers try to prevent their victim going to work.
  • Bruising laughed off as a silly mistake, e.g. walking into a door frame. Be aware that abusers though tend to hit where the bruises will not show.
  • Changes in behaviour, such as becoming more introverted.

If you and your team are working from home over the Christmas and New Year period, it could be impossible to tell if someone is experiencing domestic abuse.

However, there can be signs to look out for whilst on Teams or Zoom calls.

These could include:

  • Anxious or worried behaviour.
  • Someone always walking into the room while they’re in meetings.
  • Never turning on their camera.
  • Taking longer than usual to respond to an email or message.

Those working at home may have lost support networks and the opportunity to seek help. If you are concerned, try to be aware of potential patterns that emerge. Be inquisitive but ensure you are empathetic.

Remember that abuse does not discriminate so these signs can appear for both men and women, although women are far more often the victim.

How can you help?

If you suspect that a member of your team is at risk from domestic abuse, you should approach with caution.

Make sure all staff are aware of the ‘Signal for Help’. This hand signal can be used over video call, or in person, to indicate whether someone is at risk or feels threatened and needs help.

The signal is performed by holding one hand up with the thumb tucked into the palm and then folding the other four fingers down – trapping the thumb under the rest of the fingers.

Discretion is highly advisable, so as not to aggravate an already difficult situation and sometimes posing challenges to the employee’s personal safety.

Have an open door policy so that employees know they can talk to you if they are in trouble. Remember, though, that the burden of shame can prevent a person from reaching out.

Implementing and signposting to the right support

The following sources can also provide dedicated information and support:

Further to this, you could introduce a company policy on how you handle the subject and the confidential support you are able to provide. We can help you to compose and communicate such a policy.

The HR Dept runs courses for managers to help them understand and deal with this horrendous crime.

Preventing People Problems

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