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NixonMcInnes adopt Unison model workplace policy on domestic abuse

It’s world mental health day today, so I thought I’d blog about a related bit of recent NixonMcInnes news.

Last year I went to the Feminism in London conference and also to a seminar on women’s rights at Socialism 2010, and while there I learnt why domestic abuse is a workplace issue.

Victims of domestic abuse are likely to be affected in ways which affect their working lives – they may need to take time out of work, e.g. to visit a healthcare professional for physical or mental health reasons and their ability to deliver their actual work may be threatened – as such, workplaces need to take active steps to make sure they are not going to inadvertently discriminate against victims.

At NixonMcInnes we don’t have many policies. We’re democratically run -  we’ve been in the WorldBlu List of Most Democratic Workplaces for three years running – so if someone wants a policy that doesn’t already exist, it’s up to them to (democratically) create one.

So, I emailed everyone at the company proposing that we adopt Unison’s model workplace policy on domestic abuse. We don’t currently have a recognised trade union at NixonMcInnes, but this policy seemed appropriate for our use. Once various questions on the policy had been answered to everyone’s satisfaction, we had an opt-in discussion and vote (and some people voted via email), and the policy was accepted with no changes.

Some of the questions raised, and my responses were:

  • Why do we need a policy on this and not on other things that might affect us, e.g. bereavement?
    - Maybe we do, and if anyone would like to write one and propose that we adopt it, they’re free to do so. This is something I personally feel strongly about, so I’ve taken the time to put it forward. We have to start somewhere. This isn’t meant to be limiting either – it’s more like a minimum service level agreement than a scoping document.
  • Why don’t we just make the policy broader to cover ‘general bad stuff’? And, aren’t we already really nice and supportive to everyone when bad stuff happens, and people know we’ll be supportive?
    - For victims of domestic abuse, it can be very helpful to have clear and specific policies which explicitly state what support you can expect from your employer, when you are in that situation, which can be a relief and reduce worry.

What does this mean?

The policy educates us all on what domestic abuse is, how to identify the problem at work, how to handle confidentiality and how to respect privacy. We now have instructions on how to offer support whilst recognising that (most of us) are not trained counselors. We have rules on what to do if we realise that one of our colleagues is a perpetrator of domestic violence, recognising that it is not a purely private matter. You can download the full template policy [DOC] on the Unison website.

I’m pretty pleased that the democratic process seemed to go smoothly – people were offered multiple chances to object, ask questions, make amendments, before a vote occurred.

I’m also really proud to work somewhere that recognises issues like these, explicitly, through an official policy.

Are you suffering domestic violence?
If you are suffering domestic violence and need urgent help, call the Women’s Aid Helpline:

England 0808 2000 247 (24 hour, UK-wide info)
Northern Ireland 028 9033 1818 (24 hour)
Scotland 0800 027 1234 (10am-10pm)
Wales 029 2039 0874

In an emergency you can call your local social services emergency duty team or your local police.

Image by Pete Fletch

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