Domestic violence - guide for reps

Introduction to domestic violence

Government research indicates that one in four women and one in six men will experience domestic violence in their lifetime although women are more likely to experience repeat victimisation and serious injury.

Domestic violence also knows no boundaries of race, religion, disability, sexual orientation, age, gender identity, income or class: anyone may be affected.

PCS recognises that because the incidence of domestic violence and domestic abuse is so prevalent that it is important that employers and trade unions develop strategies to support the victims of violence.

This is to ensure that their health and safety is protected, that they do not experience additional problems related to attendance or performance issues and that they can be directed towards sources of specialist advice and support.

PCS also plays a role in raising awareness of violence against women in all its forms in the UK and around the world and in campaigning and lobbying governments to develop strategies to address the causes of violence and to provide services and support to victims and their children. We also support and raise funds for the voluntary organisations working in this area.

This guide provides information for PCS negotiators and reps on supporting members who may be experiencing domestic violence or abuse, negotiating workplace policies and campaigning for positive change.

The focus of this guide is on violence against women as this is the most prevalent form of domestic violence but the information provided will also be relevant to other forms of domestic violence and specialist contact information for organisations that support men as victims is also included

What is domestic violence?

The government defines domestic violence as "Any incident of threatening behaviour, violence or abuse (psychological, physical, sexual, financial or emotional) between adults who are or have been intimate partners or family members, regardless of gender or sexuality."

This includes issues of concern to black and minority ethnic (BME) communities such as so called 'honour killings'.

Crime statistics and research both show that domestic violence is gender specific (i.e. most commonly experienced by women and perpetrated by men) and that any woman can experience domestic violence regardless of race, ethnic or religious group, class, disability or lifestyle. Domestic violence is repetitive; life threatening, and can destroy the lives of women and children.

Domestic violence can also take place in lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender relationships, and can involve other family members, including children. Recent research also shows that disabled women may additionally be vulnerable to domestic violence and abuse from personal assistants and carers and that their particular needs are not being met in terms of the support services currently available.

All forms of domestic violence – psychological, economic, emotional and physical – come from the abuser’s desire for power and control over other family members or intimate partners.

How common is domestic violence?

  • Domestic violence is believed to be widely under reported but research from the British Crime Survey reveals that:
  • Domestic violence accounts for 15 per cent of all violent incidents
  • One in four women and one in six men will be a victim of domestic violence in their lifetime with women at greater risk of repeat victimisation and serious injury
  • One in 8-10 women experience domestic violence on an annual basis
  • 89 per cent of those suffering four or more incidents are women
  • One incident of domestic violence is reported to the police every minute
  • On average, two women a week are killed by a current or former male partner

What are the effects of domestic violence on women?

Women may be affected by domestic violence in a number of ways. They may experience any or all of the following:

  • Isolation from family/friends;
  • Loss of income or work;
  • Homelessness;
  • Emotional/psychological effects such as experiences of anxiety, depression or lowered sense of self-worth;
  • Poor health;
  • Physical injury or ongoing impairment;
  • If they are pregnant, they may miscarry or the baby may be stillborn;
  • Time off work or study, and long-term impact on financial security and career;
  • Death: two women a week are killed by their partners or former partners.

Research on homelessness for Shelter has found that domestic violence is "the single most quoted reason for becoming homeless". This study found that 40% of all homeless women stated domestic violence as contributor to their homelessness.

Women are also at greatest risk of homicide at the point of separation or after leaving a violent partner.

Domestic violence also has a detrimental impact on employment. According to Women’s Aid research among employed women who suffered domestic violence in the last year, 21 per cent took time off work and two per cent lost their jobs.

Are women who experience domestic violence “helpless”?

The concept of “learned helplessness” is now outdated according to our current understanding of domestic violence. It is a psychological theory that initially arose from animal behaviour research and was popular in the 1970s and 1980s.

Women living with and leaving violent men say that they want the violence to stop and are often actively engaged in trying to protect themselves and their children from it. They may also try a number of ways to cope with or get the violence to stop, including changing their own behaviour, e.g. avoiding certain situations or appeasing the abuser by complying with his demands.

Women may also reach out to friends or family for help. When they do so, they can experience a variety of responses, ranging from the helpful to the utterly dangerous. However well-intended their help, friends or family may simply not know how to deal with the situation and may not be aware of the professional support and the legislative rights available.

Why doesn’t she leave?

Whilst the risk of staying may be very high, simply leaving the relationship, does not guarantee that the violence will stop. In fact, the period during which a woman is planning or making her exit is often the most dangerous time for her and her children.

Many women are frightened of the abuser, and with good reason, as it is not uncommon for perpetrators to threaten to harm or even kill their partners or children if she leaves.

However, there may also be other reasons why a woman may not be ready to leave:

  • She may still care for her partner and hope that they will change (many women do not necessarily want to leave the relationship, they just want the violence to stop).
  • She may feel ashamed about what has happened or believe that it is her fault.
  • She may be scared of the future (where she will go, what she will do for money, whether she will have to hide forever and what will happen to the children).
  • She may worry about money, and about supporting herself and her children.
  • She may feel too exhausted or unsure to make any decisions.
  • She may be a disabled woman with complex care needs and have concern about her ability to maintain the care level she needs including medication
  • She may not know where to go.
  • She may be isolated from family or friends or be prevented from leaving the home or reaching out for help.
  • She may have low self-esteem as a result of the abuse.
  • She may believe that it is better to stay for the sake of the children (e.g. wanting her children to have a father or wishing to prevent the stigma associated with being a single parent).

Women and children need to know that they will be taken seriously and that their rights will be enforced. They need to have accessible options and be supported to make safe changes for themselves and their children.

Resources and support they will need to leave safely include: money, housing, help with moving, transport, ongoing protection from the police, legal support to protect her and the children, a guaranteed income and emotional support.

If a woman is not sure that these will be available to her, this may also prevent her from leaving.

Women may also seek support from family or friends and the quality of the support they receive is likely to have a significant influence on their decision-making. Sometimes women will make several attempts to leave before they actually leave permanently and safely.

Regardless of her decision, it is important that the support a woman receives enables her to increase her and her children’s safety regardless of the choices she makes about her relationship to the abuser. It is vitally important that women are supported while living with their abusers.

If a woman feels that she will not be given ongoing support while she stays with her abusive partner, she is unlikely to seek help from the same person or organisation again.

Access to culturally specific or specialised support may also be an important consideration for women from BME communities, lesbians, disabled women, asylum seekers and women with insecure immigration status. These women often face additional barriers to seeking help in the first place - such as physical barriers, language, poverty and discrimination.

Specialised help and a range of mechanisms to make contact and receive support are available via Women’s Aid and throughout the England-wide network of domestic violence services.

Leaving does not stop the violence: women are at greatest risk of homicide at the point of separation or after leaving a violent partner.

In addition to this, more than half of those with post-separation child contact arrangements with an abusive ex-partner continued to have serious, ongoing problems with this contact.

Supporting victims of violence and abuse in work

For people going through the experience of domestic violence or abuse, it is a personal, difficult and sensitive issue and reps and managers need to be aware of this.

Members may consult their rep about a range of different workplace problems, some of which may have domestic violence or abuse as an underlying factor. Signs of violence should not be ignored but members should not be pressurised into disclosing information that they do not feel comfortable about revealing

It is not the role of reps (or managers) to advise anyone in this situation what to do about their relationship or to act as a counsellor but rather to deal with practical issues that will allow them to stay in work and to stay safe, not to be penalised at work because of their domestic situation and to signpost them towards specialist sources of help.

Raising awareness

Reps and managers should work together to create an atmosphere where anyone can raise issues about domestic violence that may be affecting them and be assured that their situation will be dealt with sensitively and in confidence and in a way which is non-judgemental about their situation

Dealing with members’ problems


Employers have a legal obligation for the health and safety of their employees. If someone is experiencing violence or is leaving or has left a violent relationship then their safety is of the utmost concern.

Women experiencing domestic violence may be especially vulnerable while they are at work because once a woman attempts to leave an abusive partner, the workplace often becomes the only place she can be located and harmed

Financial difficulties

If the member is experiencing financial difficulties relating to a violent or abusive partner, it may be worth exploring whether the employer can assist perhaps through an advance of salary.

It may also be worth approaching the Civil Service Benevolent Fund or the PCS benevolent fund to see if financial assistance can be provided.

Attendance and performance

The experience of domestic violence can result in deterioration in performance at work, increased absenteeism or poor timekeeping.

In dealing with disciplinary, grievance or personal cases, reps will want to explore the reasons for the change in performance or attendance so that representations can be made but should not pressurise individuals to discuss personal information that they are not happy to reveal.

If domestic violence or abuse is identified as a cause then the rep should check whether the Employer has a policy in place on supporting victims of domestic violence or whether domestic violence is referred to as part of sickness absence (managing attendance) policies or performance management policies

It may be possible to negotiate the following outcomes (but employers generally will not allow attendance or performance management issues to continue indefinitely):

  • Sick absence being discounted from warnings or penalties
  • A period of time off or special leave
  • A change in hours or working patterns
  • A change of job
  • Revised performance targets or objectives
  • Signposting towards specialist advice and support organisations

A number of organisations offer professional help and support to the victims of domestic violence and abuse through web based advice or telephone contact. If someone you know maybe in need of such help you can make sure that the contact information is readily available in the workplace and/or that the member has access to the intranet or to a private telephone to make a call.

Some employers do not make intranet access and access to a private telephone readily available and some perpetrators of violence will check their partner’s telephone and intranet usage, potentially leading to further acts of violence.

Dealing with perpetrators of violence

It may be the case that the perpetrator of violence is also an employer and in that case they should be subject to disciplinary action.

Measures should also be taken by the employer to prevent the perpetrator from using official facilities such as email, telephone and fax to abuse or harass a partner or former partner.

Members who are made subject to disciplinary proceedings relating to violence or abuse towards a partner or former partner in the same employment are entitled to seek representation from PCS and in case of doubt, advice should be sought from PCS headquarters.

Negotiating a policy of supporting the victims of violence

In 2004-5 the civil service published guidance on developing policies to support the victims of domestic violence. This guidance was developed in consultation with the Council of Civil Service Unions and is recommended as a model of good practice.

Some civil service departments and pubic bodies have adopted policies based on the guidance and others have amended performance management and sickness absence (managing attendance) and other policies to include reference to the need to take account of domestic violence as a factor and to support rather than penalise the victims of violence.

Copies of policies are available from the equality, health and safety department at PCS.

Public authorities should also include measures to address domestic violence and to promote gender equality in their gender equality schemes and gender action plans. More information on this can be found on the Equality and Human Rights commission website.

Campaigning on issues of violence against women

PCS supports a number of organisations that are campaigning against violence against women nationally and internationally, by adding our voice to campaigns and lobbying activity, through financial donations and through affiliations and we encourage Reps and branches to do the same.

Here are some of the statistics about violence against women:

Branches can affiliate to Amnesty International

End Violence Against Women Coalition (EVAW)

EVAW is made up of a coalition of individuals and organisations campaigning against violence against women. It deals with issues including, domestic violence, rape, sexual harassment, sexual violence, female genital mutilation, forced marriages, so-called “honour” crimes, trafficking and sexual exploitation

Women’s Aid

Women’s Aid is the leading domestic violence and refuge charity supporting victims of domestic violence. Currently campaigning to end the postcode lottery of services to women and children and campaigning for education and support for children as well as researching the experience of disabled women. Branches can affiliate to Women’s Aid.

Southall Black Sisters

Southall Black Sisters is a resource centre and campaigning organisation supporting the needs of Black, Asian and Afro Caribbean women and highlighting and campaigning against all forms of violence against women.

Currently campaigning against the “no recourse to public funds” rule that applies to people who do not have UK resident status. Women fleeing persecution and violence in other countries do not have recourse to refuges, social housing or public funds in the UK because of their refugee status

White Ribbon Campaign - White Ribbon Day 25 November

The UK White Ribbon Campaign is an organisation of men working to end men’s violence against women. In addition to campaigning and raising fund through the sale of ribbons on white ribbon day, 25 November, White Ribbon has recently launched campaigns with several leading football clubs entitled “blow the whistle on violence against women”

United Nations

International Day for the Elimination Against Violence Against Women 25 November, followed by 16 days of action against violence against women.

Find out more on the United Nations website about what they are doing and support the annual Day for the elimination of violence against women followed by 16 days of campaigning activity

Cabinet Office guidance on supporting the victims of domestic violence and abuse

Section 1: the purpose of the guide

During 2002/2003 there were over 500,000 incidents of domestic violence (British Crime Survey 2002/2003) and it is likely that every department and agency has employees who have been effected by, or are at risk from domestic violence, and perpetrators of domestic violence.

This guide provides advice on how departments and agencies can develop increased awareness and more effective responses to domestic violence in the workplace for the benefit of all staff. 

Section 2 : what is domestic violence?

Domestic violence and abuse is best described as the use of physical and/or emotional abuse or violence, including undermining of self confidence, sexual violence or the threat of violence, by any person, regardless of gender or sexuality, who is or has been in a close relationship with the victim.

Domestic violence can go beyond actual physical violence.

It can also involve emotional abuse, the destruction of a spouse’s or partner’s property, their isolation from friends, family or other potential sources of support, control over access to money, personal items, food, transportation and the telephone, and stalking.

Section 4 : the impact of domestic violence on the workplace

Domestic violence can result in deterioration in performance, increased absenteeism or poor timekeeping, a rise in health and safety issues, an increased risk of workplace violence and a loss of productivity. Women experiencing domestic violence are especially vulnerable while they are at work because once a woman attempts to leave an abusive partner; the workplace often becomes the only place she can be located and harmed.

By having policies in place to respond to domestic violence, departments and agencies should be able to enhance the environment in which their employees work as well as reduce absence-related costs and increase productivity.

Section 5 : the legal implications

Employers have a duty of care under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 to ensure, as far is reasonably practicable, the health and safety at work of their employees.

The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1992 also requires employers to assess the risks of violence to employees and make arrangements for their health and safety by effective planning, organisation and control.

Section 6: what can managers do?

Management have a responsibility to take the lead in developing and implementing effective domestic violence workplace policies and a culture which does not tolerate violence against women.

Individual line managers can also play a key role in supporting staff who are being subjected to or have been a victim of domestic violence, which might be affecting an individual’s performance or attendance at work.

They also have a role in taking action, where appropriate, against perpetrators who may themselves be conducting the abuse during work time.

Identifying domestic violence

Managers should routinely screen for DV in their role of monitoring and investigating sickness, attendance and work performance. Doing so effectively is dependent on training, awareness and clear procedures for responding to disclosure.

It is important to note that this is not a checklist, some may display no indicators. Individuals experiencing domestic violence suffer a broad range of physical and emotional consequences.

For some, the violence greatly affects their lives over a significant period of time and the process of recovery can be long and hard.

Others may be able to start again relatively quickly after leaving an abusive relationship.

If domestic violence is suspected, any discussion about the employee’s situation should take place in private. Any questions should be asked with care and sensitivity, reinforcing that, as far as possible, confidentiality would be respected.

Line managers, should try to be specific during the meeting and make clear that what they have seen is leading them to have the conversation.

Signs of violence should not be ignored, but the employee should not be pressured into disclosing any personal information that they do not feel comfortable disclosing.

Practical steps that managers might take to aid discussion include:

  • Prioritise safety. Explore with women the steps they can take to increase their safety regardless of whether they’re staying in or leaving the relationship;
  • creating an environment where employees feel safe and able to talk about issues that are affecting them;
  • taking time to talk to the employee and ensure that any discussions take place in private;
  • providing a sensitive, non-judgemental response that includes details of the support systems that are available;
  • respecting the confidentiality of the individual concerned, although total confidentiality might not be possible in all cases, and should not be promised; and
  • publicising the policy to staff e.g. on the intranet, notice-boards, notices in toilets and in canteens.
  • To assist the individual it might be necessary to make work place adjustments. Those experiencing domestic violence know their abusers better than anyone else and when it comes to their own safety they should be allowed to decide what goes in the final plan. Consideration should be given to:
  • Identifying a work contact for support and an emergency contact should the company be unable to contact the employee;
  • allowing the individual to change work patterns or workload; and allowing flexible working or special leave to facilitate any practical arrangements that are required, such as seeking legal advice, attending counselling, support group meetings and to attend court;
  • diverting telephone calls;
  • diverting e-mails to a separate folder;
  • alerting security staff if the abuser is known to come to the workplace;
  • alerting workplace nurseries, if there is a fear of child abduction;
  • checking that staff have arrangements for safely getting to and from home;
  • allowing staff to use an assumed name at work;
  • ensuring communication is maintained with the employee during any absence, whilst maintaining the confidentiality of their whereabouts;
  • review security of personnel information held such as temporary or new addresses, bank or healthcare details;
  • if appropriate, facilitating a transfer to another post;
  • with consent advise colleagues of the situation, on a need to know basis and agreeing what the response should be if the abuser contacts the office;
  • with consent provide a copy of any existing protection orders and/or a photograph of the abuser to the supervisor, reception area, security staff, childcare providers.

Managers should not make a personal rather than managerial commitment to resolve an issue for a member of staff.

This can confuse the manager’s role as a line manager and can lead to unnecessary complications for both manager and individual. Any such possible blurring of responsibility should be discussed either with the appropriate HR manager or welfare representative.

Managers should be aware that there may be additional issues facing an employee and additional barriers to seeking help because of their ethnic background, religion, age, sexuality or disability which might make the individual feel more vulnerable when talking about their situation.

Although managers should try to provide as much support as possible to the individual experiencing domestic violence, the employee needs to be provided with a clear understanding of what is expected with regard to performance and attendance. This also applies to the perpetrators of domestic violence.

Whilst dealing sympathetically with the issue, managers should be aware of their departmental or agency’s policies for dealing with unsatisfactory performance and attendance, and keep records of discussions as appropriate.

Section 7 : the role of human resources

HR divisions have a central responsibility in recognising as well as responding to domestic violence and should have procedures in place to advise both employees and managers.

Links should also be made into other policy areas which might be affected by domestic violence such as health and safety, performance and attendance management.

HR responsibilities should include:

  • having staff especially trained in assisting those subject to domestic violence;
  • nominating one or two members of appropriately trained staff within the wider department as people to approach if employees wish to discuss things of a personal nature, with someone other than their line managers
  • publishing the policy to staff;
  • advising employees and managers on departmental policies for dealing with domestic violence;
  • ensuring that the availability of guidance is publicised to all staff members including reference in packs provided to those preparing for maternity leave;
  • working with managers to respond to domestic violence, including granting leave, allowing flexible working, arranging salary advances, making staff aware of sources of financial assistance and if required, opportunities for redeployment;
  • maintaining an up to date list of organisations and contacts able to support those suffering abuse;
  • advising managers on the sensitive use of performance/attendance procedures;
  • providing as part of management training, sessions that include the recognition of signs of domestic violence, and appropriate responses including the duty of care to pass on information where a child is thought to be at risk;
  • reflecting the role that recognised unions can play in supporting their members in any issued guidance; and
  • regularly reviewing domestic violence policies to ensure that they meet the department’s or agency’s requirements.

Section 8 : what can all employees do in the workplace?

Co-workers and colleagues may recognise that a fellow employee is in an abusive situation at home.

Any employee should be able to speak in confidence to either their line manager or a HR division contact if they have concerns about the safety of a colleague.

It might be difficult for the individual being abused to acknowledge the problem directly with their work colleagues but all employees can take basic steps to assist friends and colleagues experiencing domestic violence:

  • Talk to the individual and explain that you’re concerned and ask if there is any way that you can help;
  • offer the opportunity to talk without applying pressure to reveal more details than the individual is prepared to give;
  • offer support and be a good listener but do not make assumptions about the relationship, whilst being clear that the abuse is wrong. Remember that you are trying to be supportive, not to make the individual feel judged;
  • explain that they are not alone and that there are many others experiencing domestic violence. Acknowledge that it takes strength to trust someone enough to talk to them about experiencing abuse;
  • help report incidents to managers or HR with their consent; and
  • get support themselves.

Employees, as with line managers, should recognise that they are not counsellors and should not feel that they need to give advice.

It is important that they do not promise more than they are able to provide in the way of support and are aware of their own well-being, particularly as they may be putting themselves into a dangerous situation if the abuser becomes aware of their support.

Section 9 : what can an individual experiencing domestic violence do?

An individual experiencing domestic violence should remember that there is help available. If the individual does not feel comfortable talking to line managers then there is always the department’s HR division or staff support unit, which will be able to provide information on organisations able to offer advice and support.

HR should make available details of trained individuals within a department or agency whom victims can talk to.

If required, changes can be made to the workplace to make it a safer place for the individual to be, including changing work patterns, work load or just providing support. If the individual is absent, a method of communication should be arranged with line managers so that they are aware that the individual is safe.

Local trade union officials should also be in a position to provide information and support.

Section 10 : perpetrators of domestic violence in the workplace

Departments should make clear to their staff that any act of domestic violence is unacceptable.

Perpetrators of domestic violence might be using workplace resources such as telephones, fax or e-mails to threaten, harass or abuse their current or former partners and may involve other colleagues, who may or not be aware of their motives, in assisting them.

Such abuse requires an effective employer response because it could be damaging and potentially dangerous for those being abused as well as possibly bringing the department or agency into disrepute if the abuse is allowed to continue.

If employees are abusive to partners who are also employees of the department, they should face disciplinary action. The suitability of an employee with a conviction, or, in future, a restraining order, resulting from domestic violence for continued employment should be considered with regard to the department’s disciplinary procedures.

Where appropriate, action needs to be taken to minimise the potential for the perpetrator to use their position or departmental resources to find out details or the whereabouts of their partner. This may include a change of duties or withdrawing access to certain computer programmes.


  • England - 0808 2000 247
  • Northern Ireland - 0800 917 1414
  • Scotland - 0800 027 1234
  • Wales - 0808 80 10 800
  • Men’s advice line - 0808 801 0327
  • Broken Rainbow LGBT helpline - 08452 604460
  • Legal advice line: 0207 251 6577
  • Sexual violence legal advice line: 020 7251 8887

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