Domestic abuse under the spotlight as BT joins forces with CWU to expose a hidden scourge
Today (Wednesday October 14), BT will host its first ever company-wide ‘knowledge call’ on domestic abuse, signalling a major breakthrough in concerted CWU efforts get an astonishingly prevalent but largely hidden scourge recognised as an important workplace issue.
The hour-long online awareness-raising session – which will take place at lunchtime to maximise attendance potential and is open to all team member grade employees as well as managers – represents the biggest promotion so far of a comprehensive new employee ‘guidance’ on domestic violence (DV) that was agreed between the CWU and BT this summer after just over a year of talks.
Crucially acknowledging the role that managers and colleagues have to play in spotting the tell-tale signs of what is still largely a ‘taboo’ – often suffered in silence for years, leaving profound psychological if not actual scars – BT Group’s new guidance stems directly from the successful passage of a CWU Annual Conference motion.
That motion, heard at the Telecoms & Financial Services Conference in May 2019, stemmed from disturbing evidence that some DV victims were being effectively ‘punished again’ for the impact the abuse they were suffering was having on their performance or attendance records.
Delegates unanimously agreed that greater support and understanding should be extended to DV victims via a specific company policy after hearing of a harrowing case involving a Tyne & Wear Clerical Branch member working for EE.
“This motion stemmed from a member being sanctioned under sickness after standing up against her abusive husband and seeing it through court,” explained EE rep Louise Short.
“She took time off to deal with the psychological and practical effects while her world collapsed, and EE took her through the absence policy stage meetings – effectively punishing her for dealing with the abuse.
Seconding the motion, Carolyn Johnston of Scotland No.1 observed: “Thinking of the possibility that someone going through all of that could potentially also have to worry about losing their job or going through any further stress on the work front is absolutely abhorrent.”
Anne Nicholson of Meridian Branch added: “It’s all very well to have the Employee Assistance Programme to signpost you to various places, but when those various places that can help are running out of funds and closing down all over the country we need something else in place.
“We need a company that supports its workforce and gives people in this situation, whatever their gender or sexuality, the opportunity to continue in employment and keep some form of stability in their lives while the rest of their world falls apart around them.”
Responding to the 2019 Conference debate on behalf of the T&FS Executive, Tracey Fussey concluded: “The scale of the problem is huge. In the year ending March 2018 an estimated two million adults aged 16 to 59 experienced domestic abuse – that’s 1.3 million women and 695,000 men.
“One third of a working adult’s life is spent in work – and therefore employers are in a unique position to create a supportive workplace and culture that encourages the identification of health and wellbeing needs and helps to break the silence around the issue.”
Long path to an agreed way forward…
Following the 2019 Conference the CWU swiftly initiated talks with BT with a view to securing the comprehensive policy on domestic abuse that branches had demanded – but by the summer of that year it was becoming apparent that BT was resistant to the idea of adopting anything so formal.
Talks continued, however, with the CWU pressing the moral case for practical support being provided to employees enduring the nightmare of DV – and by late spring this year, significant progress had been made on the drafting of a detailed ‘guidance document’.
Based in part on work conducted by the CWU’s Equality, Education & Development, BT’s ‘UK Guidance on Domestic Abuse’ was formally adopted this summer – albeit without much fanfare amid upheavals caused by Covid-19 (which themselves have been responsible for a well documented upsurge in recorded DV cases) and wider industrial concerns across the company .
“That’s why tomorrow’s ‘Knowledge Call’ is so important,” stresses CWU national officer for BT personnel and equality issues, Dave Jukes. “Ultimately this online session – which is open to all BT employees to participate in – is about BT and the CWU publicising the fact that the guide exists and to highlight the valuable advice and guidance it contains for not just those experiencing the horror of DV but also their colleagues and, crucially, managers.”
Dave points out the guidance is unequivocal that ‘line managers in particular have a responsibility to support employees experiencing domestic abuse and to take practical steps to ensure their safety and wellbeing.’
The document continues: ‘It’s important that colleagues of those who are being abused are also supported. They may have concerns for the individual and may also be approached by the abuser. They may need information on what to do and what support is available. If you as a colleague have concerns and/or witness an incident you should raise this with your line manager.”
Such managers, the guidance points out, can take a range of ‘practical steps to assess the risk and provide practical support’, and these can include:
- Allowing reasonable time off under the relevant policies and some flexibility around working hours where possible
- Giving additional consideration to sickness absence/performance concerns when managing attendance/performance) that was impacted by domestic abuse.
- Supporting DV victims with any admin changes they might need to make, including the use of an alternative name at work or the blocking of certain phone numbers/emails
- Conducting safety checks/reviews any security concerns relating to the tendency of DV abusers targeting their victims at work
- Developing safety plans for getting affected individuals to and from work, including changing start and finishing times or using different entrances or exits.
- Encouraging them to keep records of any incident of abuse in the workplace, including persistent phone calls, emails, or visits from their partner/ex-partner.
- Supporting them if other colleagues need to be told.
Dave concludes: “There’s a lot that is tremendous in this guidance, and there’s no doubt it represents a real step forward for anyone employed by BT who is unfortunate enough to be caught up in DV situations which we need to accept can happen to absolutely anyone.
“That’s not to say that the CWU has budged from the view that the adoption of a formal BT Group policy on dealing with domestic abuse would have been preferable – and that is something that we will continue to press for.
“In the meantime, however, the active promotion of this new guidance document is an important first step – and I’d urge anyone who has ever been affected in any way by domestic abuse, along with CWU reps, branch officials, equality officers and anyone else who’s interested, to join tomorrow’s ‘knowledge call’.
- The Domestic Abuse Knowledge Call will commence at 1pm on Wednesday October 14, and is scheduled to run until 2pm
Members with access to the BT Intranet can join the call by clicking onhttps://bt.workplace.com/groups/620291251810502/permalink/958427561330201/
Those without access to the BT Intranet can access the call via https://bteuropecca.webex.com/meet/Academy