Page last updated at 05:16 GMT, Tuesday, 14 March 2006

Tackling domestic violence - at work

By Georgina Pattinson
BBC News

KPMG poster
KPMG placed posters on the back of toilet doors

Employers are taking a hand in tackling domestic violence.

One woman in four is abused in her lifetime. Men and those in same-sex relationships are also victims of violence in the home.

So it is not surprising companies are starting to address the problem - after all, it makes good financial sense.

Domestic violence is estimated to cost the UK economy 2.7bn a year in decreased productivity, lost wages and sick pay.


Absenteeism, errors and increased employee turnover also takes their toll - as does the effect on co-workers, who could feel frustrated by an inability to help or even be put in danger.

Add to this human misery the cost to UK services: the estimated 3.1bn a year burden placed on the justice, healthcare and social service systems.

All too often, the perceived stigma of domestic violence keeps victims and those around them silent.

Shelter for abused women

Hence a government-led initiative called the Corporate Alliance, which sees companies working with charities to help sufferers among their workforce.

"Women are in the workplace - naturally a number of them will be affected," says Chris Davis, the head of global campaigns at Body Shop International.

"Work is a place where they feel comfortable to seek help and ask advice."

He turns around the accusation that it could be seen as interfering in people's lives, saying: "We are being a responsible company.

Criminal Justice System: 1bn
NHS for physical injuries: 1.2bn
Mental care: 176m
Social services (mainly for children): 250m
Emergency housing: 160m
Civil legal services: 300m
Lost economic output: 2.7bn
Source: Women & Equality Unit September 2004

"We want to do two things: we want to look after our staff - and we want our staff to enjoy their work and to work productively. Because it's a private matter, it doesn't mean a company should not offer support.

"Companies need to have a policy in place, they need to promote it, but do it sensitively."

As well as supporting the alliance, the charity Women's Aid has launched an initiative with the CBI to address the problem.

"For the employer, they are losing a lot of money," says Ellie Smithson, from Women's Aid.

"The business case for dealing with domestic violence is strong.

"There's the element of being a responsible employer and looking after their employees. The workplace can be the safest place for women."

People are happy to discuss the fact someone could get hurt on the street by a stranger than behind closed doors
Ellie Smithson, Women's Aid

She cites the example of one employer who said that the first instinct of a manager who sees a worker looking ill, tired or upset is to send them home.

Home, however, could be the worst place to send them.

"We are trying to bring domestic violence out from behind closed doors and change attitudes that it is a private problem.

Poster campaign

But what can companies reasonably do?

KPMG signed up to the Corporate Alliance. Its policy is to publicise the problem and foster an atmosphere where victims can come forward.

Posters were placed on the back of toilet doors, for instance, and the KPMG policy was publicised on the company's intranet.

Rachel Campbell, head of people management at KPMG, believes responsibility extends further than just human resources.

"Line managers must develop confidence in dealing with domestic violence," she says.

"They must be clear about where the firm stands on this issue, what support is available and which procedures apply.

"KPMG has developed policies and training to give line managers the confidence to deal with victims and abusers."

Domestic violence doesn't discriminate between age, gender, race or class. We need to deal with it as an employer
Uzma Hamid, KPMG

Uzma Hamid, the corporate social responsibility team manager, points out that the company has to handle the problem sensitively.

"We raise the issue so it's OK for people to discuss it. We were aware when we launched that we didn't want victims to get the wrong idea - and that we'd come up and tap them on the shoulder. If they wanted to come forward, there were resources."

And later this year, KPMG is developing further training for managers.

"We're linking it with performance management, so managers can be aware if they are having problems with people's performance, it [domestic violence] manifests itself through productivity.

"Domestic violence doesn't discriminate between age, gender, race or class. We need to deal with it as an employer," she says.

In other words - big, blue chip companies suffer too.

"I was very surprised that no-one came back and said 'this is not the kind of thing that happens here'," she says.

As Ellie Smithson says: "The more people talk about domestic violence, women realise they are not on their own. It's not their fault. They don't have to stay in an abusive relationship.

"The more it's discussed, the more society condemns, the more women are seen as equals, the less it will happen."



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