IWD 2021: Domestic violence workplace policies
This blog post was written by Melissa Brennan, Chair of the Fórsa Women’s Activists Network, for International Women’s Day
An Garda Síochána recorded a 25% year on year increase in calls for assistance in respect of domestic related issues between 2019/2020. Operation Faoiseamh, which commenced as part of An Garda Síochána’s community engagement response to COVID-19, was launched on the 1st April 2020. The aim of the operation is to prevent loss of life and to ensure that victims of domestic abuse are supported and protected during this extraordinary time.
Domestic violence is the use or threat of physical, emotional or sexual abuse within all kinds of intimate relationships that cause harm or distress those experiencing such abuse. In addition to actual or threatened physical or sexual assault, domestic violence includes non-physical intimidation such as persistent verbal abuse, emotional blackmail and enforced social or financial deprivation.
Domestic violence may occur in any type of close adult relationship: within marital or other partnerships, families or households. It happens in all societies irrespective of gender, ethnicity, class, nationality, religion, cultural background, disability, marital status, age or sexual orientation. But the figures show that it is predominantly violence by men against women – either their partners or former partners. Having abused once, perpetrators usually persist, intensifying and escalating the violence and abuse. It is important to note that men may also be affected by domestic violence (2005 figures suggest 88,000 men and 213,000 women in Ireland have been severely abused by a partner at some point in their lives).
We are now aware that domestic violence causes lasting damage to the sufferers’ physical and mental health, affecting their ability to work and support themselves, to maintain their self- confidence and to move on and build new lives. It is now a reality for a large number of people, especially women in Ireland. It is also a crime that can, and in some cases does, end in death. The seriousness of these consequences makes it an issue for all of us, especially in the workplace. It is quite possible that a woman or man you work alongside is being abused and that you remain unaware of it.
As workers we are aware that violence and harassment in the world of work is a threat to the dignity, security, health and well-being of everyone, affecting not only workers and their employers, but also their families, communities, economies and society at large.
Many people find the subject of domestic violence a difficult one to acknowledge or discuss because it is felt to be a taboo subject, confined to the home as a private family matter and not for the involvement of outsiders. The more we learn about domestic violence however, the clearer it becomes that its impact on people’s lives will affect their performance in the workplace. Trade unions and employers need to understand this and be ready to deal with such problems as they arise.
Unions and their members can make an effective contribution to combating violence in the home by taking action in the workplace. These actions should include developing awareness amongst members, providing support systems within the workplace and liaising with agencies who help those experiencing such violence and who are campaigning for judicial reform. Part of these actions is of course, the pursuit of the introduction of domestic violence workplace policies.
For its part, ICTU issued a guidance note on domestic violence in 2004, and suggested that the following points could be covered by a workplace policy:
- a policy statement that has clear aims and states the company’s commitment to treat domestic violence seriously;
- a clear definition of domestic violence which recognises that, while it mainly affects women, men can also experience domestic violence, as well as persons in same sex relationships;
- identification of the first point of contact for employees who need to discuss issues around domestic violence;
- a commitment to early intervention by identifying ways of creating a supportive environment and to creating confidential mechanisms for those experiencing domestic violence to seek help and information;
- a commitment to offering ongoing support to those experiencing domestic violence including paid leave/time off, for example, for counselling, visits to a solicitor or support agencies, for re-housing or re-organising childcare;
- the possibility of relocation or redeployment where appropriate and supportive of the employee;
- a commitment to training and educating on domestic violence issues, [including awareness of coercive control (a pattern of intimidation, degradation, isolation and control with the use or threat of physical or sexual violence); Psychological and/or emotional abuse; Physical or sexual abuse; Financial or economic abuse; Harassment and stalking; online or digital abuse];
- provision of resources, posters and information on domestic violence available in the workplace;
- mechanisms for monitoring and reviewing the policy’s effectiveness and for regularly updating information on help available and how to contact support services.
ICTU also pointed out, importantly in my view, that the above list is not exhaustive. I would also suggest that there should be some protections for family members of victims, especially in cases where the family member in our workplace is the victim’s support person. There should therefore be provision for those workers to avail of paid leave or paid time off, in order to assist, as best they can, their family member.
The case for the introduction of such policies is clear and unequivocal:
- Such a policy could be a good investment for any employer seeking to retain skilled, trained and experienced staff;
- It can help create a positive working environment where staff feel that they are supported and this can increase their morale, loyalty and commitment which naturally, can have a positive impact on productivity;
- As the effects of domestic violence can impact on punctuality, attendance, health and safety, work performance and productivity, a clear policy that enables workers confide in their workplace reps or managers at an early stage, could prevent unnecessary disciplinary action against an employee;
- It can help send a strong message to not only workers but potential workers and society, as a whole, that the employer is committed to supporting their employees. It indicates that the employer acknowledges the difficulties and complexities of people’s lives outside of the workplace.
It is important to acknowledge that a number of unions have been successful in reaching collective agreements on domestic violence in workplaces where they have members. By way of example, Carol Schaefer, equality officer with CWU, recently informed the ICTU women’s committee that Eir and the staff trade unions finalised a collective agreement on domestic violence.
The purpose of the policy is to support those who may be the victims of domestic violence and to ensure that they can create a safe environment whereby those affected can feel comfortable speaking about the issue which would assist impacted employees in getting the appropriate help they may need in a confidential manner. This policy also recognises the severe impact that domestic violence can have on employees and their families. In that employ, the company will facilitate up to two weeks paid leave for legal meetings, to attend court hearings, for hospital/medical appointments, to mind family members, or for any other incidents related to domestic violence. This leave will be in addition to other leave entitlements and may be taken in consecutive days or broken down. In addition, employees may also request the following:
- Change in working hours and/or provision of flexible working as per the company’s flexible working arrangements
- Change of work telephone number, mobile number, or email address as appropriate
- Change in work location as deemed necessary
- Financial assistance upon request in the form of advances to salary.
- Protection for the impacted employee against unnecessary disciplinary action or discriminatory treatment when work duties cannot be performed.
This year, I call upon our union to #ChooseToChallenge and actively pursue domestic violence policies in all of our workplaces. In addition, the national executive committee should introduce such a policy for all our union’s staff.
Again, my view, is that there should be some provision for paid leave or paid time off for family members of domestic abuse victims, especially in cases where their support is required by the victim, such as attendance at court proceedings where they can seek Protection Orders.
Chair, Fórsa Women’s Activists Network
Secretary, ICTU Women’s Committee
Useful voluntary agencies and support services where women and men can seek help, support and counselling:
Freephone Helpline 1800 341900
Men’s Aid Ireland
National Confidential Helpline 01 554 3811
Dublin Rape Crisis Centre
Helpline: 1800 77 88 88
Cork-based Domestic Violence Project
021 421 1757
Cari Foundation Children at Risk in Ireland
1890 924 567
1800 666 666
1850 60 90 90
Garda Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Investigation Unit
01 475 5555