Mark Eades, Chartered MCIPD
I’ve worked in HR in the public sector for over 30 years. During this time I’ve been involved in more employee relations issues than I care to remember; ranging from founded and unfounded allegations of bullying and harassment to clear breaches of conduct (chasing a fellow employee with a baseball bat!), from short and long term sickness capability to serious safeguarding issues involving sexual exploitation of vulnerable service users. The individuals I’ve met have varied from those who needed and merited every bit of compassion and help to try to remain in employment to those who should never have been employed in the first place and fully deserved to be dismissed and, in extreme cases, jailed.
However until fairly recently I’d never dealt with a case where domestic abuse was a known factor…or at least that’s what I though until I looked back at some of these previous ones.
Just over 10 years ago, the organisation I was then working in introduced a policy on domestic abuse. From an HR perspective it was fairly low key, and those of us not directly involved in its implementation wondered why we were doing it and what relevance it had to us. After all, wasn’t this something that happened outside of work? We thought it was just another HR trend that those of us who’ve been around long enough see come and go, and I’m sad to say the visible impact was negligible.
When I look back at the cases I’ve dealt with, I can see that there may be another explanation for some of the behaviours and actions staff took. I remember my first ever disciplinary panel. We were asked to consider a cleaner who periodically didn’t turn up to do her evening shifts and had occasionally sent her son to do her work for her despite repeated warnings. At the hearing she gave no rational explanation for her actions in spite of every attempt from her manager and the panel to find out what was happening. It may have been that she simply didn’t want to do the work or that she had another job. As a result she was dismissed. What I now realise is that she may have been the victim of domestic abuse and this affected her ability to attend work but was too afraid or was not prepared to admit this for whatever reason.
The challenge for us as managers and HR staff in all organisations remains how to approach domestic abuse. Having a policy does not provide the answer; yes, it gives a statement of intent, and increased social awareness of domestic abuse through various media is helping. However the real solution has to be about embedding awareness that domestic abuse may be a factor across a range of HR policies in the workplace and may therefore impact on staff attendance, performance and behaviour.
The skill then is giving managers, HR staff, union representatives and even colleagues the confidence and tools to sensitively explore where domestic abuse may be a factor. From recent experience I know I personally haven’t quite reached that point yet. I am however confident that working with organisations such as The Corporate Alliance will continue to help me to become better at identifying where domestic abuse may be a factor and being able to take positive action to support individuals and my organisation as a result.
These observations are made in a personal capacity rather than representing the organisation I currently work for.