Anyone can experience economic abuse, including those who are employed and have an independent income.
As an employer, you may be uniquely placed to both notice signs that economic abuse could be taking place and offer support.
Economic abuse and employment
An independent income and secure employment are vital for our economic wellbeing. Perpetrators of economic abuse often use tactics that relate to employment to sabotage economic security. They seek to create instability and / or make the victim-survivor dependent on them economically as a means of control.
As well as the economic benefits, employment can also be an important source of support. For victim-survivors of abuse, their job may be the only place they can go where their activities are not monitored by the abuser, and where they can seek the help of colleagues, friends and managers. An abuser may put the victim-survivor’s employment at risk to cut them off from sources of support.
“He would phone me 10 or 15 times a day while I was at work.”
An abuser might do any of the following to put someone’s employment at risk:
- prevent her from accessing transport to get to work, such as taking her bus pass or railcard, or hiding the car keys
- prevent her from accessing the equipment she needs for work, such as a laptop or mobile phone
- force her to work from home or to finish her job to isolate her from the support of colleagues and managers
- insist she take on all the childcare responsibility
- make accusations about her to an employer
- frequently call or visit her workplace during the working day
- make demands on her time that make her late for work or unable to work
- hide or destroy the documents she may need to prove her identity to a new employer.
Other tactics used by abusers also overlap with employment, including control of income / salary, and forcing her to work/earn (or not allowing her to do so).
We have information on more tactics used by perpetrators of economic abuse.
Who is at risk?
One in six women in the UK have experienced economic abuse, and it can happen to anyone.
There are some key times of increased economic vulnerability, when economic abuse can begin or escalate. Some of these relate to employment. These include:
- starting a new job – an abuser may be more successful in their attempts to sabotage her employment if she is new to the job
- applying for a promotion or a career change – an abuser may be more likely to try to sabotage career advancement opportunities
- leaving a job (including to go on maternity leave or to retire) – an abuser may use a break in employment to isolate her from support and make her economically dependent.
We have information for employers that relates specifically to economic abuse and maternity, as well as information for employers about economic abuse at key life stages.
A workplace can often be a source of support, but working patterns can isolate some employees from this support. Think about employees who are:
- working remotely
- shift workers
- based in a different location from their team / manager
- frequently working in different locations or often travelling
- casual / agency staff.
Look out for warning signs
“I had opportunities for working in bigger cities and he prevented me from taking them so that he could control my movements more closely. He made me turn down opportunities that would have helped me in my career.”
Economic abuse can be difficult to identify. It can begin with behaviour that at first seems caring or protective, for example, offering to work so that she does not have to.
The conversations that you have with your employees, including about their earnings and their wellbeing, mean that you may be uniquely placed to notice signs of economic abuse. Noticing the signs early and acting on them can support an employee towards economic safety and stability.
The signs below could indicate that many different things are going on in someone’s life. However, these things can sometimes be a sign that an employee is experiencing economic abuse.
Wages / salary
- Asks for an advance on her wages
- Appears not to know whether she has received her wages
- Says she has to hand her wages over to her partner
- Has her wages paid into someone else’s account
- Frequently late for work or for meetings
- Often unable to work
- Often leaves work early at short notice
- Frequently takes personal calls at work
- Often requests time off for childcare
- Asks to take on more hours
- Works multiple jobs
- Extreme adverse reaction to a change in working pattern, such as a new location or a change in working hours, or a change in staff
- Says she wants to leave work, when you know she likes her job
- Is unable to access the equipment needed for work
- Regularly misses opportunities to catch up or never seems able to talk for long
- Appears anxious, withdrawn or quiet when you speak with her
Use of equipment
- Often uses work equipment for personal tasks
- Constantly checking her personal phone
Says she is unable to take on a promotion or a different role because her partner is not supportive.
Avoids social gatherings or usually leaves early.
What you can do
“My employer changed my phone number and email address so he couldn’t contact me there directly, and they diverted my wages into another account.”
It can be daunting supporting an employee who may be experiencing economic abuse, but remember that you aren’t there to solve everything. By noticing the position that your employee is in and offering support, you can play a crucial role. Your support may help to reduce the economic control they may be experiencing.
Ask how the employee is
Being in regular contact with your employees, including those you do not see day-to-day, can create an opportunity for you to ask about their wellbeing.
If someone is working remotely, it may be more difficult for them to talk, for example because the abuser is present and they can’t speak openly. Try to find out if there are certain times when it may be easier to speak because the abuser is not at home.
When you are speaking with an employee, think about how you can ask them how they are. Could this be part of a one-to-one meeting or a health and safety assessment?
The employee may feel anxious about speaking about abuse. You could say the following to open the conversation:
- How are things at home?
- What additional support could we provide as your employer?
Could you schedule more frequent check-ins with the employee to give her more opportunities to talk?
Are you able to offer flexibility to the employee that could give her some breathing space to deal with the effects of the abuse?
- Consider formal and informal requests for flexible working hours. This could enable the employee to undertake childcare responsibilities which an abuser may refuse to share.
- Are you able to allow the employee to take time off to attend appointments, either face-to-face or on the phone? She may need to speak with domestic abuse support services, a financial service providers and legal professionals in order to regain control.
- Could you reduce the employee’s workload during busy periods?
Offer financial support
You may wish to speak to your HR department to find out what support you are able to offer.
- Is your organisation able to offer paid leave to employees experiencing domestic abuse?
- Does your organisation have a hardship fund that the employee could access?
- Does your organisation offer any support with childcare costs or legal costs?
- Are you able to offer an interest-free loan or non-repayable grant to staff experiencing domestic abuse?
- Could you offer an advance salary payment if needed?
Signpost to further support
- Is there an employee assistance programme that the employee can access?
- Is there a colleague or a team who has more specialist knowledge on the support that is available?
- Speak to your organisation’s HR department – can you suggest ways that your organisation could offer further support that can be built in to the domestic abuse policy?
- The employee may find our resources on getting support, organisations that can help and financial help useful.
- Use the Women’s Aid Directory to familiarise yourself with local services that you could signpost to.
Members of the Experts by Experience group of victim-survivors of economic abuse have told us that it would also be useful for employers to:
- offer frequent praise and ensure that the employee feels valued at work
- be led by the employee when it comes to sharing information with other colleagues – they may wish to share what they are experiencing or may wish to keep the details private
- adapt policies and develop communications around domestic and economic abuse so that employees feel more comfortable to share their experience and seek support.
Further information on economic abuse for employers
SEA offers bespoke training on economic abuse, which can be tailored to the particular support your organisation could offer.
Last updated July 2022