The Coronavirus outbreak has caused an unprecedented time for all. Domestic abuse charities and support groups specifically saw an immense rise of enquiries from the start of lockdown. One in four women and one in six men experience domestic abuse in their lifetime so in some cases, for those suffering, going to work could be their only way to escape from life at home.
Due to the recent circumstances, working from home has become the ‘norm’ for many and as an employer, it is important that spotting the signs of domestic violence while remote working is still possible. Joanne Wright, Employment Lawyer at Hudgell Solicitors, offers her advice to line managers, human resource professionals and close colleagues on how to look out for the signs of domestic abuse at work whilst in lockdown.
Encourage video meetings
Communication is still incredibly important when working from home and most organisations are benefiting from having meetings and catch ups via telephone or video conferences, such as Skype, Microsoft Teams or Zoom. Video meetings are not for everyone and it may be common for employees to switch their camera off so that their colleagues cannot see into their home, but it is important to be aware that this could mean something else.
Employers should encourage at least one video meeting per week where the individual is participating and the camera is switched on. Take the opportunity to focus on whether the person is reluctant to keep the camera on, it may be a sign that they are victim of emotional or physical abuse and are anxious of somebody watching and listening to everything they say and do on the call. Take note of what the employee is wearing; if it is a hot day and the person is wearing excessive clothing or the amount of makeup they normally wear has changed, this could also be a sign that they are trying to hide something.
Changes in behaviour
Being aware of an employee’s behaviour is an effective way to recognise if someone is experiencing domestic abuse. When interacting with an employee, it is important to pick up on any noticeable changes, such as the way they write an email, how they sound on the phone or even portraying themselves on a video call. If you are used to the employee being bubbly and chatty in the workplace and they have now become detached and distant or if they have been delivering work incorrectly or late, this could be signs that they are suffering from domestic violence.
Many other behavioural traits should also be considered when interacting with a colleague; have they started getting a short temper? Have they dipped in productivity? Have they socially cut themselves off or have started to lose concentration quickly? Changes in behaviour must be monitored and if patterns or concerns come from this, the suspected employee should be approached carefully and offered advice and support.
Performance at work
Working from home, overall may affect an employee’s performance at work, so it can be difficult to conclude as to why their performance may not be to the usual standard. As an employer, encourage regular conversations with employees to discuss how they are finding working from home and the conditions they are working in, for someone who is suffering they may not be honest and lie that everything is okay. However, if their performance at work drops in standard but contradicts the conversations had then this could be a red flag that action needs to be taken.
Unexplained injuries or sickness
Everyone gets ill, so questioning sick leave isn’t usually required as employees have an entitlement to justified time off, however it is crucial for employers to look out for suspicious behaviour on their return to work. Again, when working from home this may be difficult to assess but someone suffering from domestic abuse may come back to work after sick leave being more stressed, anxious, or generally out of character. Creating virtual workshops that require one to one sessions with other employees should be encouraged to allow individuals the opportunity to confide if they feel safe to do so.
As arrangements change and people start returning to work, employers should prioritise any colleagues that they know to be at risk of harm at home to start going back to the workplace first. Employees should ensure they are fully aware of what can and cannot be done when getting involved with an employee’s personal life, so the conversation needs to be dealt with sensitively and the required support needs to be handled within an appropriate manner. If assistance is needed or an employer is ever in doubt, a HR team or legal expert should be consulted.