2024 - When Domestic Abuse Affects An Employee

Employers are responsible for the Health and Safety of Employees when they are at work. Legally, they have no responsibility for them outside of work.

So, what happens when an Employee is a victim of domestic abuse?  While this is not directly a workplace issue, it does have repercussions in terms of affecting an Employee’s performance, attendance, and much more.

In October 2023, we shared a post about the legal obligations Employers have when it comes to matters of domestic violence and domestic abuse.

There is currently no specific domestic abuse legislation placing obligations on Employers, but there is the aforementioned duty of care to the Health and Safety of Employees, which does provide Employers with a number of options for tackling the issue. As such, our previous post examined legal approaches, Policies and Procedures that can be created and undertaken. (Read that post here).

Today, we will be looking at ways Employers can support Employees experiencing domestic abuse, beyond the realm of legal obligations.

Domestic Abuse

Domestic abuse is said to affect one in four women, and one in six men in their lifetime. The types of abuse are categorised as :

  • Physical;
  • Psychological;
  • Sexual;
  • Financial; and
  • Emotional. 

Employees experiencing domestic abuse may find that it affects their work, as well as their ability to show up for work. Research by the TUC found that over 40% of domestic abuse victims were prevented from getting to work by their abuser, either through physical violence or restraint (72%), or threats (68%).

In the year ending March 2019, an estimated 2.4 million adults aged 16 to 74 had experienced domestic abuse, a figure that jumped significantly during the 2020 lockdowns. This was reported as being largely due to stay-at-home orders removing what was a means of escape for many domestic abuse victims – their contractual obligation to go to work.

Affected Employees may even find themselves at risk of Disciplinary Procedures due to poor performance or lateness, with their Employer having no idea what is behind these issues.

Effects on Victims

There are a number of warning signs that can indicate that an Employee is experiencing domestic abuse, such as:

  • Obvious physical injuries (such as bruising, cuts, broken bones etc);
  • Unusual clothing choices, such as turtle-necks in hot weather, or sunglasses indoors;
  • Negative changes to attendance and punctuality;
  • Negative changes to job performance and concentration;
  • Uncharacteristic signs of anxiety or depression; and
  • Uncharacteristic avoidance of conversations about home life.

These traits don’t necessarily confirm domestic abuse, but should be used as a starting point for paying extra close attention or investigating further (where appropriate).

For those experiencing domestic abuse, the workplace can be a safe haven, a place to seek support, and the financial compensation can be a crucial factor in their long-term escape plan.  On the flipside, the workplace can be a dangerous place, as the abuser knows where to find the victim, maybe even making excessive phone calls to them, or coming in to ‘visit’ them.

As we mentioned earlier though, many victims are prevented from getting to work by their abusers, causing them to be late or absent. This can often lead to Employers, having no idea of the root of the issues, taking disciplinary action against the Employee. 

Effects on Colleagues

Colleagues who are unaware that they are working with a person experiencing domestic abuse may find that person difficult to work with, unreliable, late and perform poorly. Without knowing their backstory, they can appear to be a burden to their colleagues.

Colleagues who are aware of the domestic abuse however, may sympathise and offer support, while taking on extra work where the victim is not able to manage it themselves. While most people may not begrudge providing this support, a heavier workload can still become a burden.

Colleagues who are aware of the domestic abuse and may be offering support to, or shielding the victim from excessive phone calls, messages or unwanted advances while at work, can also potentially put themselves at risk.

Creating a Safe and Supportive Workplace

While Employers cannot control the experiences of Employees when they are away from work, they can provide a safe and supportive workplace for them to attend. Employers should have a domestic abuse strategy that creates a ‘zero tolerance’, protective and sympathetic workplace culture, that can help reduce the negative effects of domestic abuse, even going as far as eliminating it entirely.

Education and Awareness

Many of us without experience of domestic abuse may find that we are blissfully unaware of its prevalence and the effects it can have. Likewise, many domestic abuse victims have no idea of the support and resources that are available to them.

Employers can do a lot to raise awareness in both camps. They can work with specialist domestic abuse companies to deliver awareness workshops to Employees and provide expert training on identifying and handling domestic abuse cases. Employers can also advise on the types of support they can offer in-house, or collaborate with professional organisations that provide everything from counselling and access to safe spaces, to family support and legal advice. 


While many domestic abuse victims choose not to disclose the abuse (often due to threats from their abuser), many report that they hope someone will notice.

Earlier, we listed some signs that can indicate domestic abuse. All Employees, Managers and HR professionals should receive specialist training on spotting these signs, how to enquire/approach a discussion, how to respond appropriately to disclosures, matters of confidentiality, and how to handle the case in a manner that does not put the Employee at increased risk. Managers and HR professionals in particular should feel confident in dealing with domestic abuse cases, whether reported or observed.

A Domestic Abuse Policy

In addition to the legal aspects covered in our October post, a domestic abuse Policy should make it very clear to Employees what they can expect from their Employer, should they disclose domestic abuse, either for themselves or on behalf of a colleague. 

It should assure them that the matter will be taken seriously, without judgement, and that what they disclose will be treated with the utmost confidence (except for where there is risk of harm to a child or vulnerable person – in which case, the appropriate authorities will need to be involved).  Victims and supporters should be left in no doubt of the steps that an Employer can and is willing to take, with their blessing, to resolve domestic abuse affecting its Employees.


Having an excellent basis of awareness, knowledge, and confidence in identifying and handling domestic abuse, from the security man who notices an Employee’s changed demeanor, to the colleague who notices their anxious behaviour, to a line manager who notices an uncharacteristic dip in performance, means that even without there being specific domestic abuse legislation, Employers can contribute greatly to putting an end to domestic abuse – far more than could be achieved without them.

This is a very sensitive topic and can be tricky to navigate.  As always, if you need advice or support, please do not hesitate to contact us.