The Elephant in the Room: Loan Elephants – Domestic Violence

Many employers would like to bury their head in the sand and believe that what goes on at home has nothing to do with the employee at work, but this is not the case.

The first thing to note here is that while it is fair to note that in most domestic violence (DV) and domestic abuse (DA) cases, the perpetrator is the male and the victim is the female, this is not always the case. DV and DA can affect anyone, including those in same sex relationships. Don’t assume that because someone is gay, they can’t be a victim. It is also important to understand that DV/DA may also be parent on child or child on parent, especially with older ‘children’ living at home for longer. Your employee may be single, but being abused by a parent or sibling.

Pre lockdown figures suggested that 1 in 4 women and 1 in 6 men experience DA in their lifetime. We know that that this figure has significantly increased as a result of recent Covid lockdowns, but I honestly believe the extent of this is not yet fully known.

Whether your staff are working from home or from the office, you need to ensure that they are safe.

It may well be that the office / work environment is their ‘safe space’, away from their abuser. If someone is asking to return to the office, it is worth bringing them into the office for a chat to really understand why they want to return. It may be a mental health issue, it may be for routine, but it may be to escape to their safe place. Do not hold this conversation online. They may not be able to speak freely if their abuser is at home.

There is a difference between violence and abuse. You may assume that someone would have unexplained bruises, scratches and cuts on them and while this may be the case if there is violence, abuse may not be physical. Verbal attacks such as telling someone they are useless, worthless and pathetic is DA. Not allowing someone the freedom to work late, to meet up with colleagues or to volunteer for a charity event may be other signs of a problem. Financial control such as money being taken from the employee on pay day or the employee not being able to spend money freely may also be indicators of DA.

You need to be careful not jump to conclusions and one off incidents may not indicate a problem, but you need to have DV and DA on your radar when dealing with some employees.

As with all our Elephants in the Room, do not shy away from asking questions. In some cases the employee may not realise they are a victim of DA / DV as this is their norm and what they are used to. As this is a domestic situation, there will be other complicating factors such as finances, family and religion, so you do need to tread carefully.

As an employer, you may notice changes in the person’s behaviour, engagement or performance. Treat these changes in the normal way and have a conversation. Illustrate with examples and ask what you can do to help. If DA / DV is an issue, you are unlikely to get this as a straight answer, but watch body language, listen to what is being said and more importantly to what is not being said.

For more information about the employer’s role in supporting employees with domestic abuse and domestic violence, visit There are a lot of really useful resources and it is well worth familiarising yourself and your managers with the material to enable you to pick up on potential abuse victims in your workplace.

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