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Why Domestic Abuse is an Occupational Health Issue

Posted by Ann Caluori | Fri, 07/12/2018 - 14:44


Guest blog by Dr Justin Varney MBBS FFPH HonFFOM

Interim Strategy & Planning Lead, Business in the Community & National Strategic Advisor, Public Health England


On average two women each week in England and Wales are killed by a partner or ex-partner through domestic abuse.

26% of women and 15% of men will experience domestic violence and abuse at some point in their working lifetime (16-59yrs) and 7.5% of women and 4.5% of men have experienced domestic violence in the last year[i].


Over the past 40yrs there has been a marked increase in the proportion of working age women in employment in the UK. The rate currently stands at around 71% of women aged 16-64yrs[ii], with about 9 million women in full time employment and 6.2 million in part-time employment.


Applying the estimates of experience of domestic violence in the last year to the working female population would suggest that approximately 1.14 million women in employment currently have experienced abuse in the last year.


The workplace is often one of the few places that a person enduring violence can be separate from their abuser, although it does happen that both partners work for the same company and there have been some very tragic cases of domestic homicide in workplaces where this was the case. The EHRC have reported that 75% of people enduring domestic violence are targeted at work[iii]. Work by the TUC[iv] highlighted that of those who had experienced domestic violence over 40% were prevented from getting to work by the abuser, most commonly through physical violence or restraint (72%) followed by threats (68%). 13% reported the violence or abuse continuing in the workplace, over 43% of these women reported a partner turning up at their workplace or stalking them while at work. Similar research internationally[v] has reinforced these findings and reiterated that domestic abuse and violence does directly impact individuals in the workplace.


The impacts on a person enduring violence and abuse can be significant and are more than just physical injuries. The psychological impacts are profound and although the vast majority of victims will be striving to keep up performance at work there will be an impact. The estimated costs to business of these impacts in the UK is circ £1.9 billion each year[vi].


Sometimes this will lead to a referral to occupational health, especially if the individual does not feel safe to disclose their situation to their line manager. Individuals may also directly refer to seek help and support.


Occupational health is not, nor should it be, a specialist domestic violence support service. But all occupational health professionals should be familiar with the issue of domestic abuse and be conscious of its impacts on individuals in the workplace. Having a local directory of specialist services tucked away is really key so that if a patient does disclose you are able to respond appropriately and support them to get help.


It’s also important that as occupational health professionals and employers the needs of perpetrators aren’t forgotten or ignored. If individuals disclose perpetration then there are specialist agencies and interventions that can help them break away from violence and abuse. A Canadian report[vii] highlighted that 53% of offenders felt their job performance was negatively impacted, 75% had a hard time concentrating on their work, and 19% reported causing or nearly causing workplace accidents due to their violent relationship. Their behaviours lead to a loss of paid and unpaid work time, a decrease in productivity, and safety hazards for their co-workers.


Occupational health should also be more than a reactive service and be working with employers to get upstream of issues to improve individual health and wellbeing and this is a good example of a space where most employers don’t plan their response until it happens. This is why PHE and BITC developed the free Toolkit for Employers on Domestic Abuse, we hope that this will increase as more workplaces start to talk about the issue and signpost to support, and it’s a great free resource for OH professionals to use to help initiate the conversation.


We are currently in the midst of the 16 days of global action against gender based violence, an international movement led by the UN to end gender-based violence. This is another great opportunity for individuals and organisations to start talking about domestic violence issues.


I hope we are moving into a new phase of occupational health where professionals, across the diverse family that is OH, will step up to challenging issues like domestic violence in the workplace and step into supporting all employers to take action to enable people enduring, and perpetrating, domestic violence and abuse to get access to specialist support and move away from a life of violence.


For Further Information on Domestic Violence in the Workplace

Employer Initiative on Domestic Abuse

Corporate Alliance Against Domestic Violence

BITC PHE Toolkit for Employers on Domestic Abuse


Specialist National DV Organisations

National DV Helpline

Women’s Aid



Woman’s Trust