The statistics on domestic abuse are truly shocking. One woman in three can expect to suffer some form of domestic abuse in her lifetime. As the chair of my local Women's Aid in Leicester, I know how prevalent domestic abuse is.
The government definition is "any incident or pattern of incidents of controlling, coercive, threatening behaviour, violence or abuse between those aged 16 or over who are, or have been, intimate partners or family members regardless of gender or sexuality. The abuse can encompass, but is not limited to, psychological, physical, sexual, financial or emotional."
The recent high-profile storyline in the radio soap The Archers has dealt with the psychological impact of coercive control. It is a crime overwhelmingly directed at women by their partners or ex-partners, but men can suffer too and it can arise in same-sex relationships. Perpetrators can also be controlling family members, such as sons or fathers.
With domestic abuse so prevalent, as employers we are likely to come across cases in our organisations. HR staff are not usually trained counsellors and don't have to provide that level of support, but we should be able to provide advice on where to go for help. This might help in an emergency and is also more likely to give support to someone who is not safe at home and working through their options.
Employers have a duty of care towards their staff and must provide them with a healthy and safe work environment. Perpetrators can harass staff at work or contact them during the working day. If an employee has left an abusive relationship, it is important to preserve their security and not give out an address or contact details to someone who is not authorised to have them. Most of this is covered by good data-protection actions, but all staff, including receptionists, must be trained in the importance of not giving out home addresses, numbers or mobiles to anyone who asks for them, however plausible they seem. And the employer must back this up, if necessary by making sure staff know they will be supported if a genuine caller makes a complaint.
We also need to pay attention to the broader wellbeing of staff and work toward a culture where staff can feel able to disclose and seek help in a sympathetic environment.
Some warning signs are changes in character and behaviour, the person not seeming to be "themselves" and becoming withdrawn, as well as persistent short-term absences and visible injuries that are not easily explained. Symptoms of stress might also mask domestic abuse.
HR is often the first point of contact when things are clearly not right at home, and we need to be prepared to be up front, proactive and ready with a strategy if an employee discloses domestic abuse.
Gill Taylor is a sector HR consultant