How to support an employee experiencing domestic abuse

Domestic abuse, sad woman sitting on couch

At work there may be situations in which we need to support colleagues or employees who are experiencing a difficult time at home, possibly even domestic abuse.

In order to be the best possible help we can, it is essential to educate ourselves about the red flags and best ways to support them through a difficult time.

How to recognise the signs

There are a wide range of signs and symptoms that employers and colleagues should be aware of.

Signs might include frequent absence or late arrival to work, taking longer periods of sick leave due to stress related conditions, changes in behaviour, being secretive, anxiety, acting jumpy or being on edge. Their mood might be flat or withdrawn, or they might behave out of character, have unexplained injuries, or avoid staff social events.

Barriers to disclosure

There are so many barriers to a victim being able to disclose, particularly when we consider issues of diversity. In particular, those living with disabilities, gender identity, LGBTQ+ employees, racial and nationality differences, language, religious, cultural and social barriers, not to mention rural, gender and age differences. The complexity is vast.

A more fully represented, and diverse workforce will be much more likely to produce a supportive environment for victims to feel safe and speak up.

What are my responsibilities as an employer?

Currently there is no legal obligation on an employer to have a domestic abuse policy in place. However, it is hopeful it will become a legal requirement in the future. Having a policy in place is an indication of best practice in supporting staff with one of the most isolating situations someone can face.

What can employers do?

1: Have a robust Domestic Abuse Policy in place

Communicate that this policy exists, so the employee at least knows their employer is committed to supporting staff around domestic abuse. It will help the individual staff member have faith they can turn to their employer for support.

Such policies should:

  • Spell out the signs of domestic abuse, and the roles and responsibilities of those in the organisation who will respond to the victim/employee
  • Ensure that identified staff members receive education and training and become the DA Champions among your staff team
  • Clarify what the employer can practically offer to the victim in terms of financial assistance, paying salaries into separate accounts, additional financial assistance, flexibility to access counselling or other health-related services, signposting to specialist services, access to time and space within work to make calls and other arrangements as well as paid leave, flexibility and time out of work
  • Ensure safety in and around the place of work, such as informing security, providing safe parking spaces, accompanying to buses or trains, and ensure that information about the employee’s whereabouts is not accessible (for example, listing members of staff on websites), changing phone number, moving staff member to a non-public facing role
  • Be clear about their protocol and approach to perpetrators or employees showing abusive behaviours

2: Ensure understanding of what domestic abuse is

It is important to note that many victims of domestic violence and abuse do not identify themselves as victims. They can be unaware of what kinds of behaviour constitute abuse.

3: Recognise the signs and symptoms

There are a huge range of signs and symptomatic behaviours that employer and colleagues should be aware of. It is essential that we make sure everyone is aware of these.

4: Responding effectively to disclosure

It can take an average of 50 separate incidents of abuse before a victim seeks help. If the response they get minimises or tries to justify their experience, it is likely they will continue in their situation believing there is something wrong with them, they are over-reacting and shouldn’t make a fuss, or that they deserve it and are to blame for the way they are treated. It is so important to give the appropriate response.

  • Take disclosure seriously – believe the employee
  • Re-enforce abuse is not their fault – it’s unacceptable
  • Victim cannot change their abusive partner’s behaviour
  • Reassure them – they are not the only one
  • There is life after domestic violence, and you can offer them support
  • Domestic violence rarely happens only once, it will escalate in frequency and severity
  • Break the silence and talk about what is happening – don’t remain isolated
  • Confidentiality and its limits

5: Keep a Record

Living with domestic violence and abuse is a very confusing experience for all victims. It is easy for the victim to be solely focused on the most recent incident, rather than the whole chronology of incidents experienced. Keeping records may be really helpful in supporting them with reporting to the police, specialist domestic abuse services or legal processes.

The role that employers or colleagues can play in supporting any victim of domestic abuse is vital. It is almost impossible to leave an abusive relationship without support, whatever a victim’s circumstances. The idea of disclosure brings humiliation, shame, vulnerability and exposure for all those living with domestic violence and abuse, so ensure you support their decisions, empower them to believe in themselves and always instil a sense of hope.

Many victims will go on to live happier, brighter lives after leaving abusive relationships. With education and commitment you can support their decisions, empower them to believe in themselves and bring some optimism to their dark situation.

About the author

Cathy PressCathy Press has been working as working as an integrative psychotherapist and clinical supervisor for over 25 years, specialising in domestic and sexual violence and abuse related issues with children, young people and adults.

Her new book When Love Bites: A young person’s guide to escaping harmful, toxic and hurtful relationships is out now priced £14.99. Visit for more information on Cathy’s training programmes and CPD courses.

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