Domestic abuse support services – how insurance can get involved

"It can save someone's life and that is no exaggeration"

Domestic abuse support services – how insurance can get involved

Non-Profits & Charities

By Mia Wallace

As observed by George Bernard Shaw, “progress is impossible without change” - and for an industry often dismissed as slow to transform, recent years have seen insurance businesses embrace all manner of new initiatives seeking to shake up the way things are done.

But the axiom that meaningful change must come from within holds today and, amid all the news of automation and digitalisation, it’s a breath of fresh air to see how some businesses are engaging with an innovation mindset to serve the needs of their internal colleagues. Such an example was recently exemplified by the work of two Canopius staff - Rowena Hollins, claims adjuster (pictured), and her colleague Sam, personal assistant to the chief human resources officer, in creating a new domestic abuse policy aimed at supporting vulnerable colleagues.

Speaking with Insurance Business, Hollins noted that the seeds of the policy were planted during the first COVID-19 lockdown.

“Both myself and Sam, who have personal experience of domestic abuse, were alert to the significant increase in reported domestic abuse incidents and the spike in calls to helplines, especially with people working from home,” she said. “We recognised that employers now had an increased duty of care to their employees.

“We took the idea of creating a policy to Canopius HR – they agreed that the workplace now included our homes, so felt it was right that we invested in creating protections for our colleagues who may face domestic abuse. So, we went to work on creating a policy to outline how our business would address domestic abuse.”

Because this was unchartered territory for the business, she said, the team at Canopius sought assistance from professionals in the field. They spoke with Advance Charity and the Employers Initiative on Domestic Abuse (EIDA) – which have a domestic abuse policy template. They also attended the Mad World Summit and took part in training with Women’s Aid.

Through this training, Hollins and Sam completed the nationally recognised ‘Women’s Aid Award, in Tackling and Preventing Domestic Abuse’. She highlighted that this gave them confidence in how best to respond if an impacted employee came to them for assistance. In addition, she said, they undertook training with Sistah Space - a non-profit initiative offering domestic abuse services for African-heritage women and girls - to ensure they were using inclusive language and understood the impact of domestic abuse beyond any single culture.

“With the help we gained from engaging with professionals, by liaising with our own employment law specialists, and by carrying out our own research and reflecting on our own experiences and what measures and support would have benefited us, we drafted the Canopius ‘domestic abuse policy’, which was shared with our staff in February 2022,” she said.

“In addition, we have also launched a ‘domestic abuse information portal’ on the Canopius intranet along with a ‘line manager pack’, signposting advice for managers with direct reports to help them identify and spot the signs of domestic abuse.”

Digging into the wording of the policy, Hollins noted that it provides details on the different types of domestic abuse – psychological, physical, sexual, financial and emotional. It also gives examples of controlling behaviour, coercive behaviour and stalking and harassment, she said. By sharing this information, Canopius can raise awareness and educate people on the different forms of abuse someone may carry out - and highlight that domestic abuse is not always physical.

“As we were aware,” she said, “domestic abuse is often invisible and people need to be aware of tell-tale signs. The policy also details how to report an incident, and who is there to provide support. We are fortunate to have a number of resources: domestic abuse advisors, our mental health first aiders, human resources, etc.”

The offerings Canopius has available include, but are not limited to:

  • Two weeks’ leave with paid accommodation – with no need for a police report
  • Special paid leave for relevant appointments – support agencies, solicitors, housing etc.
  • Safety planning
  • Changes to duties and redeployment
  • Counselling

In addition, she said, the team has detailed how it will respond to employees who disclose that they are perpetrators of abuse by providing information, support and signposting to external organisations. She added that it is important to note that anyone cautioned or convicted of a criminal offence relating to domestic abuse is subject to the organisation’s disciplinary procedures.

Looking back on the journey to date, Hollins said: “It has been an emotional journey with some hurdles along the way, as a domestic abuse policy is something that has not been considered previously in businesses. In particular, there was little guidance on what our standpoint should be if someone employed by Canopius was cautioned/convicted of an offence relating to domestic abuse. We sought legal advice on this matter, finding out that this would fall under ‘gross misconduct’ as per the employee’s contract.

“Another challenge was time and resources – we both still had to work our day job while researching and developing the policy. Lockdown was a difficult couple of years for all of us, so it took considerable determination and perseverance to complete it during that time. Once we saw the final version of the policy, this was by far one of our proudest moments and will be one of our biggest successes.”

When creating a policy of this scale and impact, the need for collaboration is especially clear and Hollins highlighted that this document could not have been created without the help of Women’s Aid and its professional guidance. It gave real insight as to what support should be provided to someone suffering, she said, as well as how best to respond to someone coming forward.

In addition, she said, without the help of Sistah Space, the team would not have been exposed to how domestic abuse affects different cultures and what additional barriers individuals from those cultures may face when reporting abuse. Inclusivity has been built into the very heart of this policy and looking across the market Hollins emphasised that while inclusivity is increasing, there does remain more work to be done.

“Inclusion must underpin everything we do to ensure the workplace provides a safe space for everyone to bring their full selves to work,” she said. “At Canopius, whether developing I&D policies, processes and/or guidance, or training -  employees are able to engage and are invited to share feedback. This collaborative approach helps make sure diverse stakeholders have shared their input and this creates something that is truly inclusive and helps to create culture change.”

As to the next steps, Rowena and Sam warmly invited other insurance businesses to follow the example set by Canopius and create or update existing policies to reflect the needs of their staff and peers.

“Do not hesitate to create a policy,” she said. “It can save someone’s life and that is no exaggeration. Seek guidance and help from professionals, create a working environment where people feel safe and supportive, go above and beyond for your staff and look out for each other.”

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