THE coronavirus lockdown has heightened the need for employers to understand domestic abuse and watch out for its signs, an expert has said.

Reports of domestic abuse have risen sharply during the pandemic, with help services including Victim Support noticing a big rise in cases.

Julie Johns founded the Christchurch-based Safe Space Consultancy, which helps workplaces understand domestic abuse, stalking and sexual harassment. She was awarded the MBE last year for her work.

She said she had been “very concerned” for those who had no choice but to work from home despite being at risk of domestic abuse.

She pointed out that former prime minister Theresa May had recently addressed a conference to raise the issue of employers supporting staff at risk of abuse.

“This has only heightened the need for employers to understand domestic abuse and the many forms it can take and how it impacts on the employee, employer and ultimately their business,” she said.

“Employers can play an important role in helping to identify if an employee is experiencing abuse, accessing support, both practical, emotional and financial support as all of this is needed to enable an employee to leave an abusive relationship. Employers need to be non-judgemental, informed and trusted by the employee that the workplace or employer is a safe space to disclose abuse.

“The employer needs to listen to their employee and be prepared to support them in the way the employee needs them to.”

Signs that an employee may be suffering domestic abuse while working from home can include lack of productivity; nervousness and increased anxiety; a reluctance to talk and generally not being “themselves”; unexplained sickness; and not attending Zoom meetings or answering calls.

Perpetrators will often use controlling tactics to prevent their partners working from home, insisting they take on the childcare and home teaching. Reports of coercive control and financial abuse have increased during the lockdown, she said.