“Victims have started to come forward and we’ve been able to give them time out of work to do safety planning with the police.”
Lorna Gavin, Head of corporate responsibility
When International Law Firm, became aware of just how widespread the problem of domestic violence is across all sections of society, it set about encouraging any staff affected to come forward so that appropriate support could be provided… Lorna Gavin, head of corporate responsibility, explains, “We used to view domestic violence as a community issue, something that affected individuals at the refuges we were supporting and investing in as part of our work to help reduce homelessness. It was only after we were introduced to CAADV, the Corporate Alliance Against Domestic Violence, that we realised just how widespread the problem is throughout society and therefore the extent to which it could be affecting our own workforce.”
She adds, “One in four women and one in six men will be affected by domestic violence during their adult life. It’s all too easy for employers to assume their own people aren’t affected, but with statistics like that, nearly every organisation will have employees living with domestic violence. With over 1,000 staff ourselves, we had to face the fact that more than 200 of our employees would be affected at some point in their lives, with perhaps a few dozen enduring violence at any one time. We can’t fix things at home directly, but we could get a proper policy and appropriate support in place to make anyone currently suffering feel safe about coming forward to ask for help.”
“We used to view domestic violence as a community issue.”
“Research shows that over half of domestic violence sufferers call in sick at least three days a month, and turn up late more than five times a month, costing the UK economy an estimated £1.9bn a year,” says Lorna. “There’s no doubt the issue impacts negatively on the bottom line, but for International Law Firm, the humanitarian aspect was reason enough to take action. If you knew a friend was routinely enduring violence or abuse and you were in a position to help, how could you stand by and do nothing? We think of our employees as friends and wanted them to be able to ask for help.”
She adds, “At the same time, we recognised there was a real risk employees might feel too awkward or embarrassed to come forward. A key part of our strategy was therefore to encourage victims to call our existing Employee Assistance Programme (EAP), run by psychological wellbeing experts, The Validium Group, so they could talk to a professional counsellor in confidence.”
“We joined CAADV and set about training HR and key managers how best to support staff affected by domestic violence, followed by receptionists and IT staff who were in a good position to deal with stalking and email harrassment,” says Lorna.
“When it comes to domestic violence a little knowledge can be a dangerous thing,” she continues. “As well as educating key staff how to spot the signs, ranging from performance and attendance issues to behaviour changes and physical signs of abuse, it was equally cruical that they didn’t inadvertently endanger victims by telling them to leave their partner without proper safety planning. That required having a clear process in place to ensure all staff knew what do if they thought or knew that a colleague was at risk.”
She adds, “Once the training had been completed, we announced our decision to join CAADV via our senior partner’s weekly email and published a series of resource pages on the issue on our intranet. We also put up posters with bold headlines and striking images in every toilet cubicle, featuring real case studies about different types of domestic violence being endured by both men and women, and encouraging our own people to seek help from the firm. We attached business cards to the posters with the numbers people could call for help, including the Validium EAP.”
“Since we launched the initiative in 2011, more than 80% of our workforce have accessed the domestic violence pages on our intranet. Although the identity of individuals is protected, we also know that 25-30 people are using the pages every month, spending a long time on the pages with useful links,” says Lorna.
“Most important of all, victims have started to come forward and we’ve been able to give them practical support, for example, giving time out of work to do safety planning with the police - something they simply couldn’t do outside of work.” She adds, “People are still coming through so our focus now is to maintain that culture of trust. It’s helped that we’ve had an EAP in place from Validium since 2008, as that shows we’re already committed to helping people to address issues they face outside of work. Whether the abuse has been physical or emotional, the victims of domestic violence have had their confidence battered. It’s a big brave thing for them to tell someone they need help, so it’s often easier for them to talk to Validium in confidence first.”
She concludes, “Domestic violence is the abuse of power over one person by another. We as employers can use our power to provide a safe environment for people to come forward and seek help. As our posters say, domestic violence can happen to anyone and help is closer than you think.”
“Whether the abuse has been physical or emotional, the victims of domestic violence have had their confidence battered. It’s a big brave thing for them to tell someone they need help, so it’s often easier for them to talk to Validium in confidence first.”
Lorna Gavin, Head of corporate responsibility