How SMEs Can Support Employees Impacted by Domestic Abuse

Your people

The role of small businesses in tackling and helping to provide a safe and supportive working environment for those experiencing domestic abuse.

Domestic abuse, a sensitive issue that transcends personal boundaries, often finds its way into the workplace, making it a responsibility and a concern for businesses of all sizes. Recognising this, Heart of the City has asked the Employers’ Initiative on Domestic Abuse (EIDA) to offer some essential guidance tailored for small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) on how to help and support those in the workplace experiencing domestic abuse.

For many victims and survivors, their place of work might be the only place they feel safe. By understanding the signs of abuse, fostering a supportive environment, and implementing effective policies, SMEs can not only safeguard the well-being of their employees but also to potentially save lives.

What is domestic abuse?

Domestic abuse is an insidious, largely hidden crime, which impacts not only the victim but also their children, families, and the wider community.

Domestic abuse is defined as abusive behaviour which takes place between two people aged 16 or over who are personally connected to each other. Examples include abuse of a spouse, or a former partner, or of parents or grandparents by adult children.

This abuse can be physical violence, sexual abuse, and violent or threatening behaviour. It also includes controlling or coercive behaviour, economic abuse and psychological or emotional abuse. Fundamentally, it is about one person exercising power and control over another.

Anyone can be a victim of domestic abuse, regardless of gender, age, ethnicity, sexual orientation, economic status or background.

Across the UK, a quarter of women and a sixth of men are likely to experience domestic abuse in their lifetime. This means that most employers will have people in their organisation who are affected by it.

Why should tackling domestic abuse be important to employers?

Domestic abuse often follows a person being abused into their workplace. This may happen through emails or phone calls, or the abuser may stalk them at work. The abuser and person being abused may even work in the same place.

Even if the abuser does not pursue their victim at work, domestic abuse nearly always impacts a person’s ability to concentrate and to work effectively. It may also have an adverse impact on other colleagues who may witness the impact of it. There can even be a financial impact on businesses through absence, staff turnover and lost productivity.

How can SMEs help?

  1. Visible leadership: It’s crucial that a senior leader in your organisation recognises the possibility of domestic abuse among employees, promotes the support available, and is responsible for cultivating a culture of trust where people feel confident to seek help.
  2. Introduce a Domestic Abuse policy: A policy makes it clear to all employees that domestic abuse is not tolerated, and that the organisation will support anyone impacted and signposts where to go for help. Having a clear, consistent approach gives confidence that those who seek help will be supported. A template domestic abuse policy and guidance can be found here.
  3. Follow the “Recognise, Respond, Refer” framework: When responding to domestic abuse, following this framework is an effective way to remember the key aspects of your approach. Keep in mind that you’re not expected to become an expert in domestic abuse and that the safety of the individual and colleagues must always come first.

Step 1:  Recognise

It may be difficult to spot the signs of domestic abuse. The person experiencing abuse will often hide the signs or not recognise that they are experiencing domestic abuse because the behaviour has been normalised.

Some signs at work may include:

  • Regular interruptions from a current or former partner including calls, texts, emails and turning up at the workplace or at external events.
  • Regular or sudden absenteeism, arriving late/leaving work early without explanation, or obsession with leaving work on time.
  • Appearing isolated from family, social networks, and colleagues.
  • Sudden and sustained changes in behaviour or performance at work (e.g., becoming quiet, withdrawn, emotional, or angry).
  • Unusual changes in appearance (e.g., heavy clothing in the summer, long sleeves and/or heavy make-up).
  • Injuries with inconsistent or no explanation.

It’s important to note that many of these signs may not be related to domestic abuse and each situation should be considered on a case-by-case basis.

Step 2:  Respond

It can be very difficult for someone to tell another person that they are experiencing domestic abuse. There are many reasons for this, including a fear of not being believed. Aim to create a work environment where people are confident to seek help. If an employee discloses abuse, the most important thing is for them to feel listened to, believed and supported.

An employer should work closely with the employee to understand their needs and to agree the best course of action to ensure everyone’s safety and wellbeing.  Try to avoid providing solutions, opinions, or unsolicited advice. Often people know what help or support they need.

This may involve adjustments and resources, such as:

  • A private space where they can make calls.
  • Adjustments to their work pattern, hours, or duties.
  • Access to an Employee Assistance Programme.
  • Time away from work (paid or unpaid), e.g., to attend court hearings, counselling, or other appointments.
  • Signposting to specialist domestic abuse services.

If you are a manager or HR professional and an employee tells you they are experiencing domestic abuse or are a witness to any related incidents in the workplace, make a note of the conversation as you may be asked to provide evidence in any investigation. Tell the employee in advance that the note will be kept in a safe, confidential place with access restricted to the relevant people.  Further guidance can be found here.

The workplace and its systems may also provide a safe and secure place for the employee to keep a record of the abuse they are experiencing, which may assist in evidence gathering.

3: Refer

If you believe an employee and/or members of their family are in immediate danger, call the police.

You are not expected to become a domestic abuse expert. Referring people to specialist support is an important part of responding appropriately.

Consider allowing external support services to come to the workplace to discuss options with the employee in a confidential place, particularly if there is a risk that the abuser may be monitoring their movements through their mobile phone or another device.


Further support

Having put in place your own domestic abuse response, you may want to take further action to support those impacted.  Some ideas include:

  • Raise awareness of domestic abuse with others outside your organisations, for example other organisations in your sector.
  • Encourage other SMEs from your suppliers or customers to introduce their own domestic abuse policies.
  • Find out about volunteering opportunities with local domestic abuse charities.
  • Support a local domestic abuse refuge by raising funds for them.

 You can find further resources and information here:


The Employers’ Initiative on Domestic Abuse (EIDA) is a charity supporting over 1,500 small and large employers across the UK to support their employees impacted by domestic abuse.  We raise awareness of domestic abuse, provide employers with the tools they need to take effective action and share best practice, collaborating with government, domestic abuse partners and academics to provide the latest guidance and to champion change.

Membership is free.  Your organisation can join here: