Managers at a Scottish Council are to be trained to watch out for the signs of abuse so they can help employees who may be in a violent or controlling relationship.

South Ayrshire Women’s Aid will tell managers at South Ayrshire Council that an even a change in how someone does their make up could be a sign they need extra help. Other warning signals for domestic abuse include an unexplained change in performance, punctuality or attendance, or reluctance to go home on time.

The council is the first in Europe to introduce ‘safe leave’ for its employees, following a policy introduced in New Zealand which guarantees all workers the opportunity to take paid leave if they are fleeing domestic violence or abuse.

The councillor who persuaded fellow South Ayrshire members to back unanimously the move to give employees experiencing domestic abuse up to 10 days’ paid leave, is now calling for other councils to follow its lead. Councillor Laura Brennan-Whitefield said: “This is an underreported problem. It is not just about physical abuse, but also psychological abuse and coercive control.

“Managers will be told to look out for signs like unexpected absences or even someone changing the way they do their make-up – because some partners will try to dictate that,” she said. Employees can currently fall foul of policies on absenteeism and effectively be ‘punished’ for their situation, she said, especially if the problem remains hidden.

If employers can pick up on the signs they may be able to know when a person needs help, she added. One goal for the policy is to reduce the taboo on talking about domestic abuse.

South Ayrshire employees will be able to use safe leave as required – such as to attend medical appointments, seek safe housing, attend court or arrange a change of school for a child or children.

Now Councillor Brennan-Whitfield is calling for other employers to follow South Ayrshire’s lead. “I’m hopeful that other councils will now follow suit, but we are also drawing attention to the voluntary sector and private employers, “ she said. “If you can support your staff through difficult times they are far more likely to stay in your employment. It is good business practise and without it staff in this situation can end up going off sick.”

The last SNP conference backed a resolution advocating paid leave for those leaving an abusive partner, and Labour Party commits the party to introducing a ‘safe leave’ law, but employment law is currently reserved to Westminster.

Nevertheless Hazel Brigham, manager of South Ayrshire Women’s Aid said it would be best if paid leave for those affected by domestic abuse was a national policy. “I would love to see it happening her as it has in New Zealand,” she said. I hope this will start a conversation.”

South Ayrshire says it is difficult to predict how many employees will take up the ‘safe leave’ offer. While 21 per cent of women take time off work at some point as a direct result of abuse according to Home Office research, an Australian study suggested only 1.5% of female workers and 0.3 per cent of males would use ‘safe leave’ provisions in any given year. However the council is treating the policy as cost-free as it says most of these workers would currently deal with their situation by using sick leave.

A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: “We applaud South Ayrshire Council for making this move. We are very supportive of offering time off to anyone who has experienced anything as traumatic in their lives as domestic abuse.

“We plan to write to the UK Government to encourage them to look at this as part of a series of wider asks, around advancing the fair work agenda in Scotland.”