COVID-19 highlights need for companies to protect domestic abuse victims

Emma Batha, Thomson Reuters Foundation

Posted at Jul 02 2020 10:52 PM

LONDON - The global surge in domestic violence during coronavirus lockdowns highlights the need for companies to do more to protect victims and help them get their lives back on track, experts on the issue said on Thursday.

Companies should offer women facing domestic abuse flexible working, extra leave so they can move home and sort out childcare, and consider relocating them to new jobs away from their abusers to keep them safe, they said in a report.

It is crucial that victims of domestic abuse do not lose their jobs as this could leave them trapped in violent situations, added Chiara Condi, founder of Led By HER, an organization helping victims rebuild their careers.

The report published on Thursday compares laws and policies in six countries - Australia, New Zealand, Britain, France, Italy and Canada - aimed at protecting domestic abuse victims in the workplace.

Almost a third of women worldwide have experienced violence from a partner, according to the United Nations.

It has called for action to tackle a "horrifying" rise in domestic abuse during the pandemic, exacerbated by economic strains and lockdown restrictions which have left many women isolated at home with abusive partners.

Domestic violence often impacts victims' performance at work, leads to absenteeism and disrupts careers, according to the report spearheaded by Led By HER and the Kering Foundation which works to combat violence against women.

But work can often be a sanctuary and lifeline for women suffering domestic abuse, they said.

"Being able to hold on to one's job and have a workplace that understands is really important," Condi added.

"If domestic violence impacts a woman's ability to perform her job and she's fired she will fall into even greater economic precarity which will make it even harder for her to ever leave the cycle of domestic violence."

Women who experience domestic violence are more likely to do casual and part-time work, and their earnings are up to 60% lower than for other women, said the report that was supported by global law firm Dentons and the Thomson Reuters Foundation's legal pro bono network TrustLaw.

LEGAL PROTECTION

Condi said companies needed to create a climate of trust where employees can speak in complete confidentiality about their issues without fear of repercussions or stigma.

"Domestic violence has gone up a lot because of COVID so more workplaces will have to consider what they're going to do for employees who have been affected," she added.

As lockdowns ease, Condi suggested that companies where staff are largely working at home could prioritise victims of domestic violence coming into the office.

The report urged governments to pass laws obliging all companies to safeguard women suffering domestic violence, rather than leaving it up to individual employers to draw up policies.

Laws in Australia, New Zealand, Italy and the Canadian province of Ontario provide protections such as flexible working and paid or unpaid leave, but France and Britain do not.

Australia also protects victims against unfair dismissal. Ontario was the only jurisdiction studied that obliges employers to raise awareness of domestic violence and actively protect victims in the workplace.

Safety measures may include screening victims' calls and emails, providing escorts between their workplace and car, offering parking near the entrance and relocating them to another job.

"Making the workplace as safe as possible and ensuring that the employee has somewhere they feel secure ... is critical," the report said.

"The steps taken by the employer may be crucial first steps in helping the worker change their long-term situation."