Support in the workplace for victims of domestic abuse

Hestia response to BEIS consultation

9th September 2020

The following response and recommendations have been built on Hestia’s experience of working with over 70 businesses to develop their domestic abuse response for their employees.

It also draws on key points raised in the Everyone’s Business Pilot Evaluation and direct feedback from employers as part of a roundtable discussion hosted by Hestia in June 2020 and attended by EY, Metropolitan Police Service, Wandle Housing Association, PWC, Hogan Lovells, Financial Ombudsman, Ministry Of Defence, Skanska, Devon & Cornwall Police, Osborne, Sea Containers, Home Office, Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, Employers Initiative on Domestic Abuse and the Domestic Abuse Commissioner.


  1. Background and existing best practice

Hestia is one of the largest providers of domestic abuse refuges in London and the South and is the main organisation supporting victims of modern slavery in the capital. It is the home of domestic abuse and sexual violence campaign UK Says No More and developed the Bright Sky domestic abuse app in partnership with the Vodafone Foundation. This year, Hestia celebrates 50 years of providing crisis support for adults and children through its safehouses, refuge accommodation, flagship projects and other support.

Everyone's Business is a programme of support that puts employers at the heart of tackling domestic abuse by providing tools to recognise the signs and play an active role in prevention. The original pilot was launched in September 2018 with funding from the DCMS Tampon Tax and was delivered by a consortium of service providers including Hestia, Employers’ Initiative on Domestic Abuse, the Corporate Alliance, Woman’s Trust, Bulbshare, Surviving Economic Abuse and TecSOS.

Over the two-year pilot, Everyone’s Business supported 59 employers, reaching over 300,000 men and women. The key elements of the programme were: an assessment of employers’ existing domestic abuse policies and advice on new policies; a dedicated Independent Domestic Violence Adviser (IDVA); training; accreditation for employers; an employer’s network with  quarterly meetings in the House of Commons; a national conference; counselling for victims; and an intranet portal for employers.

Nine organisations have been awarded the Everyone’s Business Accreditation, which is assessed by an independent panel of experts. This includes the Metropolitan Police (44,000 employees) who, recognising that domestic abuse could be affecting their colleagues in their personal lives, engaged collaboratively with staff to develop policies and procedures; EY (270,000 employees in over 700 offices in 150 countries around the world) who have been at the vanguard of developing an employers’ response to domestic abuse with a range of initiatives including paid leave for any employee enduring domestic abuse; and Balfour Beatty (26,000 employees), the first construction company to receive the award, who have really focused on learning from their staff with lived experiences of domestic abuse.

During the programme, as an employer of over 500 staff and supported by nearly 600 volunteers, Hestia undertook a wholesale review of our support. We have now introduced measures such as domestic abuse champions, access to an employee IDVA and were the first charity to bring in paid leave for staff enduring domestic abuse.

Following the pilot, Hestia continues to work with businesses from across the United Kingdom, including through an employer-commissioned IDVA service, ongoing access to the Everyone’s Business Portal and Bright Sky app, and individual support to businesses to enable them to deliver a domestic abuse response.

In August 2020, with funding from the Home Office, we launched the Everyone’s Business Advice Line as a resource for employers to advise them on how to approach disclosures of domestic abuse by their employees, particularly in light of Covid-19, and to triage such employees into the appropriate local specialist domestic abuse services. We also developed a specific COVID-19 toolkit to support employers in the current context.

  1. The link between domestic abuse and employment

In England and Wales, domestic abuse has been estimated to cost Government and services around £66billion per year. This includes a cost to employers of upwards of £14million per year, due to reduced productivity and lost output due to time of work. This can cost employers an average of £7245 per victim, however this does not include the impact of non-physical forms of domestic abuse such as economic abuse and coercive and controlling behaviour, nor does it fully consider the impact of the physical injuries a victim may have (Rhys Oliver, 2019).

The workplace can be a place of safety for those experiencing abuse, providing financial independence, enabling access to specialist domestic abuse services and providing practical tools and measures to enable a victim to leave an abusive relationship, such as paid leave, redeployment and emergency loans. However, it can also become a site of domestic abuse: over 75% of victims report that they were targeted at work (EHRC, 2016) and some perpetrators use employment as means to control and harm their victims through economic abuse and coercive and controlling behaviour.

As well as employing people who are experiencing domestic abuse, it is highly likely that those that perpetrate abuse are within the same workforce. These people may also commit abuse while at work, using company resources and tools (Royal, 2020). Therefore, businesses need to consider their role with regards to employees who are perpetrators.

For many victims of domestic abuse, COVID-19 and the subsequent lockdown and social distancing measures have given perpetrators new opportunities to isolate and control their victims. For many victims, the only opportunities to access help were through initiatives such as the UK SAYS NO MORE Safe Spaces in pharmacies, or through their employer email and communications channels.

There are not only strong economic and moral reasons for employers to act. By involving employers in the response to domestic abuse, we can not only make a significant impact for individual employees, but can also contribute to a wider cultural change around domestic abuse (Royal, 2020). When asked, employers overwhelming agreed (86%) that they have a duty of care to support employees experiencing domestic abuse (Westmarland, 2017). 

In 2019, there were 5.9 million private sector businesses in the UK; 1.4 million of these had employees and 4.5 million had no employees. Private sector businesses employ in excess of 27.5 million people in the UK (Ward, 31 July 2020).  The public sector employs in excess of 5.44 million and in total it is estimated (pre-COVID-19) that 31.8 million people were in employment (ONS, January 2020). We cannot ignore this opportunity to reach people who are experiencing domestic abuse, and to provide them with opportunities to access specialist domestic abuse support.

  1. The potential to do more

Recommendation 1: Invest to ensure all businesses incorporate a domestic abuse response in their provisions for their employees.

Businesses need to deliver a domestic abuse response to their employees. This includes, but is not limited to, a domestic abuse policy, which will outline how the business will support employees experiencing abuse and provide pathways to support.

The domestic abuse policy should contain a statement or definition of domestic abuse, provide clear direction on what an employer can offer in way of support (paid leave, emergency loans and redeployment) and include pathways to independent specialist domestic abuse support.  A report in 2013 by Equality and Human Rights Commission Wales, found that when policies were in place, staff confidence in reporting domestic abuse increased, as did their line managers’ in responding (GVA, 2013). 

Policies need to be coupled with practical responses such as paid leave, emergency loans, redeployment opportunities and increased access to independent specialist domestic abuse support. Training and internal communication drives to raise awareness and dispel myths are vital in creating a workplace that encourages and supports disclosures of domestic abuse.

The Everyone’s Business pilot demonstrated that businesses are keen to take forward these sorts of initiatives. However, for many employers it is part of a long list of things they would like to do but can’t make the business case for funding, as they do not fully understand the impact of domestic abuse on their bottom line. It is therefore imperative that initiatives such as Everyone’s Business receive government support to enable employers to take the first steps in tackling domestic abuse.

‘‘The process of developing a business response for our employees was a long but thorough process, as at the time no other police service had an employee domestic abuse policy. We learnt through employee surveys and feedback that there were additional barriers to accessing support for police officers and staff. By providing access to a specialist employee IDVA (not directly connected to any local IDVA service, which by nature of their role they engaged with on a professional level), it provided a direct route to support.” - Metropolitan Police Service, Everyone’s Business Roundtable 2020

“I was reassured that there was someone who cared and understood my experience, and I was able to speak to them." - Employee accessing the Everyone’s Business IDVA

Recommendation 2: Inclusion of domestic abuse in laws and guidance that govern the workplace

Many employers are already offering support which would be of benefit to a victim of domestic abuse, such as emergency loan schemes. However, it is currently very rare that victims of domestic abuse are explicitly recognised as being potential recipients of this support. In the same away, existing initiatives around mental health and health and safety are highly relevant to victims of domestic abuse, but a significant opportunity to connect the dots is being missed.

To embed a national employers’ response to domestic abuse we need more than good will and the commitment of a few excellent employers. It is critical that tackling domestic abuse becomes part of the landscape of an employer’s duty of care. Key examples of how this could be achieved would be:

  • Inclusion of domestic abuse response in the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974

  • An expansion of the The Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992, or at the very least, related Approved Codes of Practice, to include domestic abuse response.

  • Domestic abuse response to be developed as a new Code of Practice by Acas.

  • The Chartered Institute of Professional Development (CIPD) to provide good practice guidelines for HR professionals in their response to domestic abuse within the workforce.

“As an employer we welcomed the opportunity to develop a domestic response for our employees; along with a domestic abuse policy, we have introduced paid leave and have benefitted from having access to an employment IDVA. We found that the government funding programmes, such as the Everyone’s Business pilot, was vital for us an organisation to demonstrate that there was a need for our employees to be able to access domestic abuse support. We would encourage an, ‘employer obligation’, to make reasonable adjustments for domestic abuse and believe that this would provide an important push.” - Roundtable participant, Everyone’s Business Roundtable 2020

Being referred to an IDVA was so important, I knew I could tell her anything. I was glad I was no longer a burden to my colleagues.” - Employee accessing the Everyone’s Business IDVA

“For me, it was the reassurance that someone cared and understood what I was going through. I was alone and thought that it did not happen to anyone else. When I told my Mum, she said I shouldn’t make a fuss.” - Employee accessing the Everyone’s Business IDVA

Recommendation 3: Clear guidance for employers in the Domestic Abuse Bill statutory guidance

The Modern Slavery Act was a global milestone in the fight against modern slavery. Section 54 in particular is transforming the way businesses see their role in ending modern slavery by requiring boards of directors at large UK businesses to actively consider the potential risks within their supply chains. Ensuring effective change in tackling domestic abuse requires a similar level of commitment.

The statutory guidance of the new Domestic Abuse Bill provides an opportunity to achieve this. It should include a statement outlining that employers should ensure that commitment to supporting staff affected by domestic abuse is considered by the board of directors (or equivalent management body). It should also state that employers could consider publishing an annual statement alongside their Modern Slavery Statement.

To aid understanding and buy-in, the statutory guidance should also be expanded to include:

  • Recognition that work can be one of the few places of safety for victims.

  • Examples of what good practice looks like; such as how to create a culture where victims of domestic abuse feel able to seek support.

  • Examples of what good practice looks like to ensure that employees affected by domestic abuse receive appropriate care and support.

“We recognised that we needed to have a dual approach to domestic abuse; as a registered social landlord, one for residents and one for our employees. This required a change in mind-set, and we realised that we needed to approach things differently. For example it was a challenge to accept that we, along with everyone else, will have perpetrators of abuse working for us. Therefore our policy and response addresses this. Part of the success in developing a domestic abuse response lay in strong leadership from our Chief Executive and buy-in to give this work the priority it required.” - Wandle Housing Association, Everyone’s Business Roundtable 2020

“She (IDVA) helped me to know what I needed to know, where I needed to go and speak to…she’s advised me, led me to go to solicitors and report it to the police…I don’t think I would have ever done that without the help and support.” - Employee accessing the Everyone’s Business IDVA

“From my own perspective it would be incredibly helpful for this support and commitment to have to be demonstrated as a government mandated report like it is with modern slavery.” - Roundtable participant, Everyone’s Business Roundtable 2020

“In conclusion (of the Roundtable discussion), some participants mentioned the challenges that they had faced in achieving buy-in to the process; that this stage had taken more time than expected and had at times hinged on the financial impact on the business and their ability to purchase such things as training, yet many business’s identified training and the individual consultation model as a crucial part of the process. For one business, the gendered provisions in the DA Bill had created challenges.  Finally, overwhelmingly most participants agreed that external pressure from government to have a DA response would be useful, at the very least to create buy-in. Many recognised that national governing bodies, industry standards and legislation would act as a useful external pressure.” - Hestia Moderator, Everyone’s Business Roundtable 2020


Jo Tilley-Riley, Director of Fundraising & Communications
074 6714 6737 / [email protected]


  • Equality and Human Rights Commission. (2016). . Retrieved from Equality and Human Rights Commission

  • GVA. (2013). Evaluating the Impact of Domesttic Abuse in the Workplace Polices in Wales, Cardiff . Cardiff : Equality and Human Rights Comission

  • Office for National Statistics. (January 2020). Employment in the UK. London : ONS

  • Rhys Oliver, B. A. (2019). The economic and social costs of domestic abuse Research Report 107. London: Home Office. Retrieved 2020

  • Royal, D. K. (2020). Everyone's Bussines project - Evaluation report. London: Surviving Economic Abuse and Hestia.

  • Ward, C. R. (31 July 2020). Busines statistics Number 06152 . London : House of Commons Library 

  • Westmarland, N. (2017). Domestic Violence and Abuse: Working togther to transform responses in the workplace . London : Vodafone Foundation in association with Ipsos MORI and Durham University.