Domestic abuse is the best prism for future of employee wellbeing

Dr Justin Varney, Interim Strategy & Planning Lead at Business in the Community, discusses employer responsibility for the health and safety of homeworkers

The nature of work is changing rapidly. Ten years a go few of us had heard of the ‘gig’ economy as a concept and companies like Uber and Deliveroo were in their infancy.

Over the last decade we have seen rapid evolution of the way that people work. The office based cubicle culture has shifted to open plan and shared office space as a corporate norm.

The digital breakthroughs of the turn of the century have seen a significant shift in the ease of remote working and in 2017 about 13.6% of all people in employment worked primarily from home. With many more working more flexibly on a more ad hoc basis and research highlighting that many more want to be able to work more flexibly in the future , home working and flexible working patterns are clearly a shift in workplace practice.

Home working has lots of benefits for both employees and employers, especially for carers as the BITC Santander Equal Lives research showed. 

So, what has this got to do with domestic violence and why is it a great prism to reflect on employee wellbeing? 

The ACAS guidelines on homeworking state that “Health and safety for homeworkers can be a little different than for employees at an employer’s base, but it should be remembered that employers have a duty of care for all their employees, and the requirements of all of the health and safety legislation apply to homeworkers.”

So, if as an employer, you have a home worker and they disclose that they are experiencing domestic abuse, what is your responsibility? You have a duty to provide a safe space for them to work and protect their health and they have just told you that their workspace is no longer safe.

This is the kind of practical issue that the free BITC/PHE toolkit for employers on domestic abuse addresses and exactly why speciality organisations like the Alliance and networks like the Employer Initiative on DA exist, alongside and in partnership with the specialist domestic abuse agencies like WomensAid, Refuge and Women’s Trust and the National Domestic Violence Helpline.

This is the kind of challenging situation that we all hope we don’t have to face in our working lives. But as 1 in 4 women will endure domestic abuse at some point in their life, two women a week die due to domestic homicide and 1.2 million women experienced domestic abuse in the last year in England and Wales, sadly for most line managers and HR teams at some point this will be affecting women and men in your workplace.

Considering how you as an employer might respond in this situation is a good way to consider whether your offer to staff is accessible to those who work flexibly and is really thinking about the whole person and their health and wellbeing – not just their repetitive strain injury or healthy eating in the workplace canteen.

Too often, we don’t think about challenging issues like these in a workplace context until it’s too late. My hope is that the 16 days of global action against gender based violence is a powerful prompt to businesses of all sizes to take action, no matter how small, to address this serious and significant issue.

We know that people enduring, and perpetrating, violence often need help and support to access specialist help and that’s why this year BITC has published a new briefing document to help employers take concrete steps to acknowledge the issue of domestic abuse and its impact on employees and business as a first step to taking action.


*ONS Data showing employment and home workers, for the period Labour Force Survey January to March 2015 to 2017 and Annual Population Survey October 2016 to September 2017. Jan 2018

TUC Growth in Home Working has Stalled.