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Building safe spaces: domestic violence and the workplace

The effects of domestic violence on survivors’ lives are seldom confined to where it takes place, with the majority of victims experiencing disruptions to their career as a consequence. The negative impact of abuse on their health, productivity and overall wellbeing can also affect their co-workers and employers.

This discussion paper, published by the European Agency for Safety and Health at Work (EU-OSHA), suggests domestic violence is a workplace issue and provides examples of legal and policy frameworks at the EU and national levels. It also recommends workplace measures that can support survivors effectively and help combat abuse.

Addressing domestic violence as a workplace issue is important for human resources (HR) personnel, for union and employer representatives involved in negotiations for workplace policies and in implementing prevention programmes in occupational and safety policies and procedures, and for managers and occupational health professionals providing support for survivors.

According to the ILO, although domestic violence may originate in the home it can spill over into the workplace. It can have severe and long-lasting impacts on the safety, health and wellbeing of workers and their capacity to remain in work and to work to their full potential. For this reason, the ILO Convention 190 (detailed in the paper) acknowledges that employers can help to recognise, respond and address the impacts of domestic violence on the workplace. While it is recognised that it is the State that has the primary responsibility to tackle domestic violence, and while employers are not responsible for it, they are in a position to act as allies to address it and to reduce risks insofar as they are in the work setting.

A legal framework on domestic violence as a workplace issue exists at the international, European and national levels. The paper explores the relevant provisions from the ILO, EU and Council of Europe, and existing national laws on domestic violence at work.

The paper includes recommendations for employers, which are about taking simple steps to become aware of domestic abuse, having flexible responses and signposting survivors to specialist support organisations. This does not require large budgets; in fact, putting in place measures to support survivors to stay in their jobs can have significant cost savings for employers. Recommendations are set out for both small and larger organisations.

EU-OSHA March 2023

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