A Proposal by UNISON’s Women’s Officer to invite the University of Birmingham to adopt a Policy on Personal Safety at Work for Colleagues Affected by Domestic Violence and Abusive Personal Relationships
Introduction and rationale
Unison’s role is as an organisation that supports its members during a variety of difficult personal circumstances. From experience, Unison is aware of a need that exists among some university staff for them to feel protected at work when they are facing threatening personal circumstances such as violent or threatening behaviour. In undertaking this policy and publicly promoting it as one of the university’s values, Birmingham University reaffirm its reputation as a progressive and supportive employer that recognises equality and dignity at work. The trade unions collectively urge the university to adopt a policy of zero tolerance on domestic violence, stalking and other forms of abusive/threatening behaviour towards its employees that is not already covered by the Harassment Policy and the University Health and Safety Policy.
The aim in developing an effective policy on domestic violence/abuse and stalking is to create a workplace where the dignity and safety of our colleagues are respected. This policy is intended to support Birmingham University’s commitment to family-friendly working and ensure the welfare of individual members of staff; to retain valued employees; to improve morale and performance; and to enhance the reputation of Birmingham University as an employer of choice, acknowledging that a safer working environment benefits women’s professional development and the university’s commitment to ongoing gender equality. Additionally the Health and Safety at Work Act (1974) and the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations (1992) recognises that the University of Birmingham has a legal responsibility to safeguard the welfare and safety of all staff. Therefore this policy applies to staff across all sites as well as agency and contract staff (and elected members) in line with the guidelines for the UHSP 2010: “This Policy applies to all premises and activities within the control of the University” (p. 1)
Victims of domestic abusive behaviour are entitled to work in an environment where there is zero tolerance for such behaviour in accordance with the University’s Equality Scheme 2016-2020 (objective 3), and that individuals affected by abusive behaviour can be assured that if they raise the issue with their employer that they will receive appropriate support and assistance. (Alongside this policy the (trade unions/JUC?) also encourages the university to adopt a policy to offer support to an employee who is a perpetrator of domestic violence who will be given support and encouragement to cease their abusive behaviour). The University of Birmingham recognises also that domestic violence and stalking are equalities issues and undertakes to not discriminate against anyone who has been subjected to domestic violence and abuse both in terms of current employment or future development. Alongside this policy the JUC/Unison calls on the University to adopt a policy on confidentiality concerning external communications for all employees (adaptable for the business needs of the service), to protect victims from unwanted or threatening contact when an abusive situation is confidential/generally unknown.
Definitions of domestic abuse and stalking
Domestic violence and abuse are best described as the use of physical and/or emotional abuse or violence, including undermining of self confidence, use of sexual violence or the threat of violence, by any person, who is, or has been, in a close relationship with the victim, including abuse of parents or adult children. It can also involve the destruction of a spouse’s or partner’s property; isolation from their friends, family or other potential sources of support; control over access to money, personal items, food, transportation and the telephone. It can also include abuse inflicted on, witnessed by or threatened against, children. Forced marriage is also an example of domestic violence.
Stalking can be described as the sustained unwelcome attention of another person, often but not always an ex-partner, it can include persistent phone calls, text messages or emails; attempts at physical contact such as visiting the victim’s home or place of work; threats to the person whether physical or sexual, online intimidation or activities that inconvenience the victim, tracking a person physically or online or via GPS spyware on mobile phones.
This policy is therefore applicable whatever the nature of the present or former intimate relationship. Such distressing circumstances have an impact upon a victim’s entire life and this policy is designed to protect the employee whilst at work as well as supporting the victim in reclaiming their life. The university recognises that domestic abuse occurs in all social classes, cultures, and age groups, sexual orientations and genders. There are certain characteristics:
§ Once it has started it often becomes more frequent and more violent, it instils fear and compliance from the victim.
§ It can severely affect children emotionally and physically.
§ People at risk of forced marriage are sometimes beaten or harassed by members of their immediate or extended family.
§ Domestic abuse is gendered – the majority of perpetrators are men and between 80-95% of those who experience it are women, although it does also occur against men in heterosexual relationships, in same sex relationships and against bisexual and transgender people.
§ Suzy Lamplugh Trust defines stalking as ‘A pattern of fixated and obsessive behaviour which is repeated, persistent, intrusive and causes fear of violence or engenders alarm and distress in the victim.’
§ Victims of stalkers become worn down emotionally and physically, they can suffer from symptoms of anxiety and depression, and become fearful for their safety and that of their family or friends.
§ Stalking behaviour does not always include threats of violence but is still distressing.
§ Victims can suffer from isolation as they can be made to feel responsible for the abusive behaviour and so conceal the problem from their colleagues or managers.
§ It often becomes more menacing when the victim has left the abusive partner and is attempting to ‘move on’.
Identification of the problem at work
There are signs which may indicate an employee may be a victim. These may include:
§ The member of staff may confide in their colleagues/manager.
§ Staff may inform their manager that a colleague is subject to domestic abuse.
§ There may be obvious evidence of physical abuse.
§ It may come to light as a result of enquiries into a significant change in behaviour or a drop in performance.
§ It may reveal itself as the background to poor attendance or presenteeism – where victims prefer to be at work rather than at home.
Whilst University of Birmingham encourages victims of domestic violence to disclose domestic violence for the safety of themselves and all those in the workplace, it does not force them to share this information if they feel unable to.
We call on the University to prioritise the safety any employees who make it known that they are experiencing any form of domestic violence or abusive or threatening behaviour. We urge the adoption of the following measures;
- The university will include domestic abuse and stalking in its welfare and equalities training.
- The university will undertake to support staff in responding to the reporting of violent and abusive behaviour.
- The university will include training for line managers or other welfare workers in handling such disclosure. This may include signposting victims to the available resources and ensure that they are supported throughout the process of gaining control over their lives; explaining extenuating circumstances to team members unaware of the situation.
- The University will encourage its employee to contact a specialist support agency (or suitably trained specialist member of staff) who can undertake a DASH (Domestic abuse, stalking and harassment, and honour-based violence risk assessment – www.dashriskchecklist.co.uk) and make appropriate referrals where necessary.
- The university will adopt a FORMAL EMPLOYEE CONFIDENTIALITY POLICY on employee privacy for enquiries regarding contacting staff at work. In the circumstances for which this policy is designed, abusers are familiar with an individual’s working pattern, contact details, colleague information.
- The university updates its GDPR training to ensure that details about any member of staff are kept confidential to external enquirers according to their wishes. The university will train all staff of the importance of not divulging personal details of other employees, such as addresses, telephone numbers or shift patterns.
- The university will endeavour to implement, via the above measures, a culture where an employees right to privacy is respected without “outing” that person as a vulnerable person.
- All employees will be made aware of this FORMAL EMPLOYEE CONFIDENTIALITY POLICY through a range of methods including induction, training, appraisal, leaflets and posters.
Safety recommendations to support a Formal Employee Confidentiality Policy
Employees who disclose experiencing abuse will be assured that the information they provide is confidential and will not be shared with other members of staff without their permission. Where domestic abuse in a same sex relationship is disclosed, due regard will be paid to the double disclosure of confidential information particularly where the individual recipient of abuse may not be ‘out’ at work. If the above recommendations are adopted all staff will understand the university policy concerning their privacy at work. To ensure a victim’s safety, the unions propose the following possible actions to be offered as appropriate:
§ Temporary or permanent changes to working times and patterns.
§ Changes to specific duties, for example to avoid potential contact with an abuser in a customer facing role.
§ Redeployment or relocation.
§ Measures to ensure a safe working environment, for example changing or removing a telephone number to avoid harassing phone calls.
§ Using other existing policies, including flexible working.
§ Temporary parking allocation on campus to avoid victims needing to park in remote or dark locations, especially for shift workers.
§ Any records kept will be strictly confidential, and no local record will be kept of absence related to abuse or stalking, and there will be no adverse impact upon a victim/survivor’s employment record.
§ Deliberate or improper disclosure of information i.e. breaches of confidentiality by any member of staff will be taken seriously and may be subject to disciplinary action.
However, it should be recognised that there are some circumstances in which confidentiality cannot be assured such as:
- Concerns about children or vulnerable adults or where the employer needs to act to protect the safety of employees.
- Before breaking any confidentiality, the university will seek specialist advice and advise the employee of the university’s legal obligation to do so.
- information will be shared on a need-to-know basis.
University Support for Individuals
The University of Birmingham recognises that developing a life free from abuse/stalking is a process not an event and will commit provide ongoing support as a form of reasonable adjustment for employees who disclose abuse. Such employees are, in effect, victims of emotionally traumatic crimes and the university and UNISON representatives will work together cooperatively to help staff experiencing domestic abuse and moving on from it. Where domestic abuse has been reported line managers will treat unplanned absences and temporary poor timekeeping sympathetically. The university will liaise with the member of HR trained in domestic abuse issues to ensure support for the victim.
Line managers may offer employees experiencing domestic abuse or stalking a broad range of support to ensure their safety at work. This may include, but is not limited to:
§ Special paid leave for relevant appointments, including with support agencies, solicitors, to rearrange housing or childcare, and for court appointments.
§ Implement a general policy on staff confidentiality so as not to single out the victim who may not wish to disclose her situation to her colleagues.
§ Access to counselling/support services.
§ An advance of pay, to include the cost of emergency house move to a cost of up to 3 month’s rent (that would cover one month deposit, and a month in advance rent) to be paid by salary sacrifice.
§ Other existing provisions (including occupational health, Independent counselling service, others) will also be signposted to staff as a means of help.
§ Opportunity to attend courses for survivors such as those offered by Women’s Aid and Refuge or the Freedom Project: https://birminghamfreedomproject.org/
§ Develop online/IT training that will enable victims, and others, to safeguard their online footprint. This can take the form of identifying whether a victim’s phone has GPS tracking; removing identification information from social media; deleting compromising and potentially humiliating information or images. Such training has the potential to be the gold standard in staff protection and draw attention to the university as an outstanding employer.
Line managers will respect the right of staff to make their own decision on the course of action at every stage and should avoid being judgemental. It must be recognised that the employee may need some time to decide what to do and may try many different options during this process.
Training for managers
Birmingham University will commit to ensuring all line managers are aware of domestic abuse/violence and its implications in the workplace. Information, briefings and awareness-raising sessions will ensure that all managers:
§ Identify if an employee is experiencing difficulties because of domestic violence.
§ Respond to disclosure in a sensitive and non-judgemental manner.
§ Provide initial support – be clear about available workplace support including in-house specialist staff where applicable.
§ Discuss how the organisation can contribute to safety planning.
§ Signpost to other organisations and sources of support.
§ Understand that they are not counsellors, and seek support themselves if they are affected by such disclosures.
Perpetrators of domestic violence
The University of Birmingham recognises that it has a role in encouraging and supporting employees to address violent and abusive behaviour of all kinds and that frequently such behaviour can occur in the context of other mental health problems. If an employee approaches the University of Birmingham stating they are concerned about their abusive behaviour towards another adult, the university will provide information about the services and support available to them and will encourage them to seek support and help from an appropriate source. The current document is designed to support victims but Unison will be happy to work with the university to formulate a fuller policy on perpetrators that is intended to be safety focussed and supportive rather than punitive. People seeking help will be:
§ treated fairly and honestly.
§ Signposted to specialist, safety-focused counselling.
§ Treated with good faith to support them in understanding and changing their destructive behaviour.
§ However, the university will waive its commitment to privacy is there is any indication that children are at risk of physical or mental abuse.