When Domestic Abuse Comes To Work

Covid-19 has blurred the lines between work and home life. One consequence of the pandemic is a global increase in domestic violence, including intimate partner violence. Despite this new reality, the majority of employers still don’t have a plan for dealing with domestic violence and abuse.

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When we think of domestic violence, we typically do not think about the workplace. The pandemic has significantly altered this balance as employees around the globe have been forced to shelter in place and work from home. 

The UN has described the worldwide increase in domestic abuse as a “shadow pandemic” alongside Covid-19. It is believed cases increased by 20% during the lockdowns, as many people were trapped at home with their abusers, and though restrictions on movement have been lifted in most regions, unfortunately, the pandemic and its effects still rage on today. 

This unprecedented increase in domestic violence marks an urgent call to action for the private sector to leverage their existing resources and influence to keep women safe at home and safe at work. A study conducted in June 2020 by United Women Singapore, a non-profit organisation that promotes women’s empowerment and gender equality, found that 74% of firms surveyed in Singapore indicated that they did not have policies in place that address workplace impacts on domestic violence and abuse. Another local study in Singapore indicated that 72% of women abused by their partner are unlikely to make a police report. With the high female labour participation in the Asian city state, there is a high probability of women suffering in silence and therefore, a spill over effect at the workplace affecting employees’ productivity, workplace safety and environment. 

“Avoidance of the issue is no longer an excuse for employers. Employers who are focused on their employees’ welfare should have a policy that addresses the issue of domestic violence. We really have to work on the workplace culture around this issue, so employees will not be afraid or embarrassed to tell HR or their managers, about domestic violence concerns,” said Georgette Tan, president of United Women Singapore.

It is encouraging to see that many employers recognise the need to be more involved in creating a safe and supportive working environment for survivors of domestic violence. This issue can no longer be dismissed as “family matters” or “issues best left to law enforcement”.

Indeed, domestic violence policies should highlight the employer’s acknowledgement that domestic violence and abuse does happen, and may impact the employee’s work life and the workplace. They should make it clear to their employees that they will do what it takes to support those experiencing it. 

Having a policy in place lets employees know that the company they work for is aware and cares deeply about the issue, and can provide support or even direct victims to resources if they need it.

It is vital and urgent that companies work directly with their legal departments to develop policies and programmes, using the latest information on legislation regarding intimate partner violence, leave of absence for victims of domestic violence, non-discrimination laws, and workplace restraining orders.

As the global economy worsens, instances of domestic violence could continue to increase and go unreported. Survivors of domestic violence need our help and support especially in these extraordinarily difficult times. Now, more than ever, we need to acknowledge that domestic violence is both a personal and personnel issue and that there is a greater need for private sector participation as a key stakeholder in the community to create safe and supportive workplaces for all. 

For companies in Singapore who need help implementing a comprehensive plan to increase awareness of domestic violence and  abuse, please contact United Women Singapore at [email protected].

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