Recognising the signs of domestic abuse
Victim-survivors of domestic abuse usually do not disclose their experience to anyone at work out of fear of not being believed, being judged, being treated as a ‘victim’, or believing that nothing will change. They may feel embarrassed or humiliated by their experience and not want to share such personal details with their colleagues or employers. This is due to the stigmatisation of domestic abuse in society which can significantly undermine efforts in the workplace to support victim-survivors.
Where a line manager is unaware of, or unsympathetic to, the reasons for persistent lateness, unexplained absences or poor performance, the staff member may be disciplined or in some cases dismissed. Knowing the signs of domestic abuse is therefore important to ensure that you know how to effectively manage the staff member, and support them in their situation.
Signs around a staff member’s productivity may include:
- Changes in the quality of their work for unexplained reasons, despite a previously strong record, such as suddenly starting to miss deadlines;
- Receiving repeated upsetting calls, texts or emails; and
- Constantly checking their mobile phone.
Signs around a staff member’s attendance may include:
- Being persistently late without explanation or needing to leave work early;
- Having more frequent, sporadic absences without explanation;
- Increased hours being worked for no apparent reason i.e. very early arrival at work and/or working late;
- Needing regular time off for appointments; and
- Their partner exerts an unusual amount of control and demand over their work schedule, for example, they may be dropped off and picked up from work and is unable to attend business trips or events.
Signs around a staff member’s behaviour include:
- Avoiding lunch breaks or socialising at the end of the working day;
- Changes in their behaviour such as becoming quiet, avoiding speaking to colleagues, or withdrawing from social interactions;
- Isolating themselves from friends and family;
- Feeling depressed, anxious, distracted, or having problems with concentration;
- Obsessing about time;
- Exhibiting fearful behaviour such as being easily startled;
- Expressing a fear of their partner;
- Expressing fears about leaving children with their partner; and
- Being secretive about their home life.
Signs around a staff member’s physical state include:
- Having repeated injuries and/or an explanation for injuries that does not fit the injuries they have;
- Frequent and/or sudden and/or unexpected medical problems and/or sickness absences;
- A change in the way they dress such as excessive clothing in summer, being unkempt or dishevelled;
- A change in the amount of make-up worn;
- Sleeping and/or eating disorders;
- Substance use and/or dependence; and
- Depression and/or suicide attempts.
Other signs that a staff member could be experiencing domestic abuse include:
- Flowers or gifts sent to them by their partner for no apparent reason;
- Seeming to have less money than previously; and
- Being a victim of vandalism or threats.
This is not an exhaustive checklist and there may be other indications that a staff member is experiencing domestic abuse. It is important to recognise that a change in productivity or behaviour can be as a result of challenging external factors. You should therefore speak with the staff member to determine how best to support them. Having a comprehensive workplace policy on domestic abuse will enable line managers to feel more confident and supported in initiating discussions with staff.Go back to the Domestic Abuse homepage