As legal professionals who frequently represent victims of domestic abuse, we know all too well the devastating long-term impact it can have on the personal and professional lives of those affected.

On average, high-risk victims will live with domestic abuse for over two years before getting effective help. Often multiple incidents of abuse will have occurred before a victim reports it to the police. Domestic abuse does not discriminate by gender, profession, socio-economic status, faith or race. It can affect anybody, at any time.

For many people experiencing domestic abuse, the workplace is a safe place where they can temporarily escape their abuser. However, with huge swathes of the UK workforce set to continue working from home as a result of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, and statistics indicating that domestic abuse is on the rise, employers have a responsibility to ensure that the remote workspace is not only prosperous and productive, but also a safe space for everyone that works there.

In November 2020, 43% of respondents to a survey by charity Surviving Economic Abuse showed an abuser had interfered with someone's ability to work or study from home during the pandemic. Examples included hiding phones or computers, removing Wi-Fi connections, and phoning an employer claiming a breach of lockdown rules, in an apparent effort to get them sacked.

Tackling domestic abuse is not just a moral imperative. The most recent Home Office figures show that £1.3 billion was spent on dealing with domestic abuse in England and Wales in 2016/17.  This represents more than ten percent of the policing budget. The same research showed that lost economic output and reduced productivity resulting from domestic abuse cost the country £14 billion. This is in addition to the nearly £50 billion the Home Office estimated as the cost of physical and emotional harm.

Research conducted by KPMG for Vodafone in 2019 found that UK business loses £316m in economic output each year as result of absences related to domestic abuse. In addition, due to the impact on career progression, the potential loss of earnings per female victim of abuse is £5,800 each year.

Businesses are increasingly engaging with their role in tackling domestic abuse but still face challenges in accessing the right tools, information, guidance and materials to support their workforce.

Earlier this year Business Minister Paul Scully wrote an open letter to employers on how they can support survivors of domestic abuse. The letter outlined several practical steps employers can take to build awareness of domestic abuse, ensuring they are noticing warning signs and helping workers access the support they need. In a chambers context, clerks, members of chambers and other staff may be well-placed to spot the signs of abuse and signpost colleagues who may be affected to specialist support.

Sharon Livermore, a businesswoman and survivor of abuse, is spearheading a national awareness campaign to get businesses to recognise the growing issue of domestic abuse. She was made to take five days of annual leave to attend the court case of a now imprisoned abusive partner.

Today, Sharon is an ambassador for the Employers Initiative on Domestic Abuse (EIDA) and the Domestic Abuse (DA) Alliance, two UK-based organisations working to raise awareness of and tackle domestic abuse and provide support to those who are experiencing it.

Together with The HR Dept., which offers outsourced human resources support and advice to more than 6,000 SMEs in the UK and Ireland through a network of franchisees; EIDA, the DA Alliance and Sharon have created a landmark domestic abuse policy; ‘Sharon’s Policy’ and a detailed set of guidance notes informed by Sharon’s lived experience of abuse.

The policy calls for businesses to take up four key measures:

  1. Recognise – implementation of a domestic abuse policy in the workplace to help employers spot the signs of abuse
  2. Respond – training provision to ensure line managers are equipped to handle domestic abuse disclosures
  3. Record – accurate recording of domestic abuse disclosures by the workforce
  4. Refer – proactive signposting to specialist support services i.e. for legal, practical or emotional assistance

Though the policy is largely used by traditional employers, it provides a useful guiding post for the self-employed Bar to engage with these issues too. When employers and those in chambers demonstrate that they are aware of domestic abuse and make staff and members aware of the services that are available, this can help to reduce the wall of silence about domestic abuse that prevents many from seeking help. The launch of Sharon’s Policy gives a clear signal that domestic abuse is everyone’s business.

Sharon’s Policy is available to download, free of charge, from the Employers Initiative on Domestic Abuse (EIDA). EIDA, founded by 14 people including Baroness Hale of Richmond DBE and Baroness Helena Kennedy QC, is a fast-growing network of 600+ large and small employers from a wide variety of industry sectors, working collectively to take action on domestic abuse. Its mission is to support employers to raise awareness among all of their employees, support those facing domestic abuse, and provide access to services to help perpetrators to change their behaviour and stop.

Shahid Shoeb is Director of Legal Service for the Domestic Abuse (DA) Alliance, a privately-funded company bringing together UK organisations working on the frontline of domestic abuse with the legal sector to provide instant legal assistance and protection for victims. The DA Alliance’s free to use WEPROTECT app enables an immediate referral to be made to their team of trained legal advisors who support domestic abuse victims to seek professional legal advice and secure protection measures, such as court orders and injunctions, to help them break the cycle of recurrent abuse. Visit: www.domestic-abuse.co.uk