Northern Ireland Civil Service is taking action against domestic and sexual abuse

Northern Ireland Civil Service is taking action against domestic and sexual abuse

Domestic abuse has an impact at work where it can negatively affect those who are abused as well as their colleagues. 

The CIPD and the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) recently produced a guide for employers for managing and supporting employees experiencing domestic abuse, which explores why domestic abuse is a workplace issue, and explains how to develop an effective framework around domestic abuse support, and the role of HR, people managers and employees. 

The report cites figures showing that 75% of those enduring domestic abuse are targeted at work. However, the workplace can often be one of the few places that a person experiencing abuse can be separate from their abuser, and as such can be the place where people are able to ask for and access support. 

It's essential that employers are knowledgeable about domestic abuse, so they can offer support to those who are being abused, so the CIPD in Northern Ireland was delighted to hear that the Northern Ireland Civil Service NICS has been awarded a Gold Workplace Charter on Domestic Violence by ONUS - a consultancy specialising in tackling domestic violence and abuse - in recognition for its work to support staff who may be victims of, or at risk of, domestic or sexual abuse. 

ONUS now intends to use the NICS policy as an example of good practice and as a resource for other employers to consult when reviewing, developing and implementing guidance and providing support to colleagues. 

The NICS policy 

The NICS launched its new Domestic & Sexual Abuse Policy at the start of October after the NICS HR team, along with support from colleagues from the Departments of Health and Justice, took forward the work as a priority when the pandemic brought the issues of domestic and sexual abuse into sharp focus.   

The policy offers protection to any member of staff who discloses that they may be or have been affected by domestic or sexual abuse, regardless of where the abuse takes place and sets out a range of available support measures. These include the use of special leave to facilitate practical arrangements such as meeting with a solicitor, the option of a temporary or permanent change of workplace or working pattern and even financial help to support alternative arrangements to protect the staff member.

“Abusive relationships can impact greatly on the working life of victims,” said the NICS’ Strategic HR Director, Jill Minne.

“As one of Northern Ireland’s largest employers, the NICS has a huge role to play in keeping employees safe, by empowering colleagues to recognise risk, sign posting to help and supporting victims as they rebuild their lives.

For victims of domestic or sexual abuse, work can be the place where they can make a phone call or appointment, and the base from where they can start to put a plan together to keep themselves safe.

Work colleagues may be the only people that someone living with domestic abuse talks to on a regular basis and as we consider new ways of working as a result of the pandemic, we must retain the option for colleagues to access support from their workplace.

We want all colleagues to know that the NICS is a safe place for them.” 

The policy also provides advice on available support and highlights how a manager or a colleague may assist those affected by outlining a list of behaviours associated with abuse and providing examples of questions or prompts that can be used to support any conversation they may start with the employee. 

To help embed and support the new policy, a number of NICS HR Welfare and Business Partner colleagues received Safe Place Advocate training. The role of a Safe Place Advocate is to enhance the support available to colleagues who have been affected by or are at risk of abuse. 

Nicola Mullan, one of the NICS HR Business Partners who undertook the training said “The training has given me the confidence in my role as a Safe Place Advocate, to know how to respond to, and offer the appropriate support to colleagues who have been affected by or are at risk of abuse.” 

Download a copy of the CIPD guide to find out how to develop a framework around domestic abuse for your organisation.

Support for Domestic and Sexual Abuse

The 24-hour Domestic and Sexual Abuse Helpline can be contacted 24/7 on 0800 802 1414; via email or for info and web chat go to