Making work a safe haven from domestic violence

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date: 21 November 2002

embargo: 00.01hrs Monday 25 November 2002

Attention: industrial, social affairs, women's correspondents, forward planning desks, women's magazines, union journals

A new guide published today (Monday) aims to help unions and employers develop sympathetic, but effective ways of assisting the victims of domestic violence, a problem that will affect one in four women at some point in their lives, according to the TUC.

In Domestic violence: A guide for the workplace, the TUC says that most workplaces are currently employing someone who is or who has been on the receiving end of violence from an abusive partner. Referring to figures from the 2001 British Crime Survey, the guide warns that 20% of all violent crimes reported last year were of a domestic nature, and that women assaulted by their partners are likely to be attacked and abused repeatedly.

The TUC points out that whilst employers have no legal obligation to act over domestic violence, the existence of a sensible policy is a goal towards which all workplaces should be working. Yet whilst the problem affects many women, the guide warns that employees might not want to share details of their private lives with colleagues or managers. The guide advises that anyone approaching a woman with a violent partner needs to proceed very sensitively.

  • Commenting on the new publication, TUC General Secretary John Monks said: 'Domestic violence is sadly more common than most of us realise. When it becomes clear that all is not well with an employee, sensible employers will want to offer assistance, and unions can help them do that in the most sensitive way possible. A carefully drawn up policy can make all the difference. It not only reassures victims that help is at hand, it also enables employers to tackle a delicate problem which can have a damaging effect on business and employee morale.'

To give unions and employers a helping hand in devising workplace policies on domestic violence, Domestic violence: A guide for the workplace suggests a number of items that should be included:

  • One or two members of staff should be named as people to approach if employees wish to discuss things of a personal or domestic nature. Whilst they don’t need to be trained counsellors, the guide suggests the named people undergo some form of training to help them better understand the nature of the problem.
  • Confidentiality and discretion must be maintained at all times. The guide says that anyone experiencing domestic violence may find it extremely difficult to tell anyone what is happening to them, they may in fact be having problems facing up to the reality themselves. Any policy must highlight the importance of keeping home address, phone and email details confidential because abusive men will often go to great lengths to track down the whereabouts of their partners.
  • Any workplace policy should set out special arrangements which can be made to enable women experiencing violence to organise alternative childcare arrangements or find somewhere new to live. The guide also says that because in some cases abusers will try to control their partners by seizing their banks accounts and cash cards, employers should think about offering women advances on their pay or alternative methods of pay in certain circumstances.
  • When thinking about the safety of female employees with violent partners, the guide says employers should consider moving the member of staff out of public view, changing keys and codes for gaining entry to the office, and altering their working hours or shift patterns.

Minister for Women, Barbara Roche MP said: ' Two women a week die because of domestic violence. We know that the workplace can be a place of safety for women, and that they will often confide in their colleagues about their experiences. It is also a place where others notice what is going on, and help women to access the support they can so desperately need.

"I welcome this important step of developing sensible ways for employers to address the issue of violence in the home, should it arise."

Nicola Harwin , Director of Women's Aid said: 'I welcome the TUC’s guide because it recognises the vital role that employers and trade unions can play in supporting women experiencing domestic violence .'

Domestic violence: A guide for the workplace contains a list of organisations that women experiencing violence might find it useful to contact, as would unions and employers drawing up a workplace policy. It also contains a number of case studies featuring women who have been the victims of domestic violence:

  • Patricia (not her real name) is a teacher from Yorkshire. She was only on the receiving end of physical violence once from her abusive husband, he preferred the emotional and psychological approach. He was very jealous and manipulative, and constantly threatened to take her children away and throw her out of the house. She was always rushing home from work so that she would be there with the children in case he tried to take them. His behaviour undermined her confidence and made her very suspicious and paranoid. The abuse had a real affect on her work, and she eventually confided in one of her colleagues and talked to her line manager who was really supportive. Patricia and her husband eventually got divorced, but it was three and a half years later before the full effects of what had happened really hit her and she suffered a breakdown. Patricia had nine weeks off work - her employers were very supportive and encouraged her to take this time out and have a phased return to work.
  • Marie (not her real name) is a train driver who lives on the South Coast. Her first husband was very violent and work was very much a safe haven for her. She worked long shifts at a factory and did as much overtime as possible so that she didn’t have to go home. Once or twice she went to work with broken ribs and a broken arm, but her job involved lifting which she couldn’t do after an attack. Her employer was a small family firm and they were very kind to her, giving her lighter jobs that didn’t involve any heavy lifting. They would also keep her husband away from her, if he phoned up they would say she was busy, and they’d give her lots of overtime so that she could stay away from him for longer. In the end she left him. Initially her relationship with her second husband was fine, until he suffered a breakdown. That was when the violence started. She’d got a job on the railways by then and work was again a safe haven. One time she went to work with a black eye, a broken cheekbone and a handprint around her neck. Her manager said that she wasn’t to work on the trains in that state - it wasn’t safe for her and it would also distress the passengers. Instead they gave her office work, but she still left for work every day in her uniform so that her husband wouldn’t know that she’d altered her working arrangements.
  • Leeds City Council has had a domestic violence policy for three years. Following extensive consultation, a domestic violence liaison person was identified in each department and they each undertook some special training. These staff display their contact numbers on posters in the departments and other open spaces used by staff. The council publicised the new policy widely via the intranet system and a leaflet attached to the monthly pay slip. Each department is required to monitor how the system is used. The Council’s domestic violence policy also addresses the issue of staff who are perpetrators of domestic violence. The Council states that employees suspected of or convicted of perpetrating domestic violence may face disciplinary action. The Council believes that the policy has helped create a culture where people can be more open about discussing domestic violence.

Notes to Editors: Domestic violence: A guide for the workplace is published to coincide with White Ribbon Day on 25 November, recognised by the UN as the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women and organised in the UK by Womankind Worldwide. Review copies of the guide can be obtained from the press office.

The TUC guide specifically refers to women as the victims of domestic violence, but recognises that men too can experience domestic violence, and that it can occur in same sex as well as in heterosexual relationships. Domestic violence: A guide for the workplace costs £20 (£5 to TUC affiliated unions) and is available from TUC Publications 0207 467 1294. Some of the case studies may be available for interview. All TUC press releases can be found at www.tuc.org.uk

Contacts: Media enquiries: Liz Chinchen on 020 7467 1248 or 07699 744115 (pager) or email media@tuc.org.uk Other enquiries: Rebecca Gill, TUC Women’s Policy Officer on 0207 467 1303

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