2023 - When Domestic Violence Impacts Work – What Employers Should Legally Consider

Domestic abuse is said to affect one in four women, and one in six men in their lifetime.

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 Covid-19 pandemic, largely down to stay-at-home orders and closures of workplaces – essentially, the removal of the traditional escape routes that many domestic abuse victims count on.

Research by the TUC found that over 40% of domestic abuse victims were prevented from going to work by their abuser, either through physical violence or restraint (72%), or threats (68%). Furthermore, many victims are subjected to disciplinary proceedings due to lateness, poor attendance and/or poor performance, often by Employers who have no idea of the reasons behind it.

In the first of two blog posts on the topic, we’ll be looking at what Employers need to consider, from a legal standpoint, when domestic violence impacts work.

An Employer’s Legal Obligations

There are no legal obligations placed upon Employers to deal with domestic abuse directly, just as there is no legal obligation placed upon victims of domestic abuse to disclose it to their Employers. Employers do, however, have a duty of care to the Health and Safety of their Employees when they are working, whether they are working from the workplace, at home, or remotely at some other location.

While an Employer who is made aware of domestic abuse affecting an Employee can do little to legally help them, there is a lot that they can do to create and operate a zero-tolerance workplace, with solid policies and procedures in place to protect Employees and help prevent issues from both occurring and reoccurring. Employers are also in a strong position to take action against perpetrators of domestic abuse, should they happen to be in their employment.

A Domestic Abuse Policy – HR Takes The Lead

An Employer’s HR professional or team (where they have one) should take central responsibility for developing policies and procedures regarding domestic abuse. A Domestic Abuse Policy, either as a standalone Policy or as part of other Health and Safety Policies, should detail the common signs of domestic abuse, the steps that will be taken if domestic abuse is suspected or reported, and provide details of advice and support that is available to victims, as well as abusers.

Risk assessments associated with this Policy should give consideration towards the potential for, and facilitators of domestic abuse. For example, is access to the workplace open to anyone to simply walk in? If it is, how will a victim (and their colleagues) be ensured safety, should the perpetrator pay a visit to the workplace?

HR (or senior Managers, where there is no HR in place) should ensure that other organisational Policies complement the Domestic Abuse Policy. For example:

● A Flexible Working Policy can be useful to Employees who need to make adjustments to their work patterns, where it can potentially support them in managing or recovering from the effects of domestic abuse;

● A Diversity and Inclusion Policy will support Employees in disclosing domestic abuse issues, regardless of their sex, identity or background.

Training at All Levels

The Company can and should arrange training for Managers, to raise awareness of the issues of domestic abuse, and how disruptive being in an abusive relationship can be to so many aspects of work and life. It should also be complemented with detailed information on the type of advice and support the Employer can provide, either directly or through outside partners who specialise in domestic abuse matters.

The Company should also provide formal training and awareness sessions for Employees to learn more about the issue of domestic abuse, and what they can do if they are personally affected by it, or are worried about someone else.

Disclosure and Confidentiality

Any disclosure to an Employer, by an Employee, that they are suffering domestic abuse, should be taken very seriously. Employers are responsible for ensuring that this information and other details relating to the victim and the perpetrator are not disclosed. Colleagues and other Employees who may be aware of the situation should also be reminded of their responsibilities to confidentiality, and the potential consequences should improper disclosure take place. Of course, there are exceptions when confidentiality can be broken, particularly where it relates to safety concerns for the victim and other Employees.

It is essential, along with the Employee’s knowledge and consent, to keep very precise records of any disclosures, discussions and measures taken to protect and support an Employee, and, where appropriate, to prevent further occurrences of domestic abuse during working hours. These will be vital should the case become more serious.

There may be cases where the abuser and the victim work in the same workplace. If an Employee discloses that they are a victim of domestic abuse from a colleague, this must be taken very seriously. While it is not a legal requirement, it is good practice to restrict access to personal records associated with the victim at this point, which brings us on to what Employers must consider when an abuser is one of their own Employees.

When The Abuser Is An Employee

While it is difficult to take legal steps in assisting an abused Employee, there are more options available for an Employer to consider when the perpetrator is an Employee.

It is vital to communicate a Zero-Tolerance Policy in relation to domestic abuse (this statement should be clear in the Domestic Abuse Policy). Employees must be made aware that this type of misconduct, whether it’s in the workplace or outside of work, will be viewed extremely seriously by the Employer and can lead to disciplinary action and dismissal.

If the domestic abuse is committed outside of work, it may be possible to respond with disciplinary action if the misconduct was linked to work in some way, or if it has destroyed the Employer’s trust in the Employee to perform their role, or if their actions have potentially brought the Employer into disrepute.

To ensure that any disciplinary action, hearings or dismissal proceedings are fair, it is necessary for the Employer to carry out an investigation into any witnessed events, disclosures (with the victim’s permission) or allegations. A full and thorough investigation is absolutely essential for going over the facts and drawing conclusions, without judgment or assumption. Another reason a full investigation is important, is that while reports of domestic abuse should be taken seriously, and disclosures accepted without a demand for proof, there is always the possibility that allegations being made are false. An Employer must be confident, beyond reasonable doubt, before proceeding with disciplinary action.

The organisation’s Disciplinary and Dismissal Policy should reiterate the zero tolerance standpoint on domestic abuse, and make it clear that this kind of misconduct can lead to disciplinary action. This should be wide-ranging to include, for example, misconduct carried out during working hours, such as an Employee using a workplace computer to stalk an ex-partner online or send cyber abuse.

Having such Policies in place, combined with precise and detailed record-keeping, will help mitigate any attempts by a perpetrator to claim that they have been treated unfairly, or that their actions have nothing to do with their work.


While disclosures by victims, as well as the personal and criminal records of perpetrators are subject to confidentiality, as discussed earlier, there are some industries and professions where misconduct, related disciplinary action or convictions need to be reported to a regulator.

The Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) requires that all serious violent and sexual offences committed by Employees and professionals working in the financial services sector are reported to them. Similarly, if a domestic abuser works in health and social care, or education, it is considered that their behaviour could put their patients or charges at risk. Furthermore, an offence of this nature could be in breach of the Code of Conduct of their role.


When an Employer needs to consider what can legally be done to address domestic abuse affecting Employees, having solid policies and procedures in place and ensuring that all Employees are aware of them, is the best first step.

However, the legal side of things is just a small fraction of what a good Employer can do to help Employees, should they be affected by domestic abuse, directly or otherwise.

Stay tuned for our February blog, in which we delve into what Employers can do to manage and support Employees experiencing domestic abuse.

In the meantime, if you need more advice or support on this topic, please do not hesitate to contact us.