On 1 April 2019 the Domestic Violence – Victims’ Protection Act came into force adding legal protections into the Employment Relations Act for employees affected by domestic violence.
The Act allows employees affected by domestic violence to request paid Domestic Violence Leave and short-term flexible working arrangements. In addition Employees can now raise a personal grievance on the grounds that they have been adversely treated by their Employer because of their Employer’s belief that they are affected by domestic violence. Adverse treatment in the workplace of people affected by domestic violence is also a new form of discrimination under the Human Rights Act 1993.
So what does this mean for Employers? The key things to note about this recent law change are set out below.
Domestic Violence means violence against a person by any other person with whom that person is, or has been, in a domestic relationship. It includes:
damage to property;
threats of physical abuse, sexual abuse, or psychological abuse;
financial or economic abuse (for example, denying or limiting access to financial resources, or preventing or restricting employment opportunities or access to education):
A single act may amount to abuse and a number of acts that form part of a pattern of behaviour may amount to abuse, even though some or all of those acts, when viewed in isolation, may appear to be minor or trivial.
A person is in a domestic relationship with another person if the person—
A person affected by domestic violence means a person who is 1 or both of the following:
Employees become eligible for Domestic Violence Leave if they have worked for their Employer for at least six months and for at least an average of 10 hours a week (and must have worked either at least 1 hour each week or at least 40 hours each month over the six month period).
If an Employee isn’t eligible for Domestic Violence Leave it would be prudent for the Employer to consider what other support could be provided to ensure that the Employee is safe in the workplace (discussed in more detail below).
Eligible Employees are entitled to at least 10 days paid Domestic Violence leave each year and can ask for up to 2 months of flexible working arrangements.
It isn’t mandatory for a Domestic Violence Leave provision to be included in an employment agreement. However it can be a helpful way of letting Employees know about their entitlement, and to have consistency within the employment agreement if other leave entitlements such as sick leave and bereavement leave are already set out.
It will be important for Employers to keep in mind the sensitivity of domestic violence and the need for privacy when dealing with a request for Domestic Violence Leave. In particular Employers should consider carefully how they approach a request, what information is provided to other staff, and how leave and flexible working arrangements are managed. A Domestic Violence Leave policy may be helpful here.
Health and safety obligations should be considered when a request for Domestic Violence Leave is made, given that the staff member’s safety in the workplace may be impacted if they are suffering from trauma or other effects of domestic violence. Employers should turn their mind to what support can be provided to the affected Employee to ensure that they are kept safe at work. In addition to Domestic Violence Leave and flexible working arrangements such support could include, for example, sick leave, unpaid leave, and employee assistance services.
In many cases an Employer will be comfortable that domestic violence has occurred based on the Employee telling them so. However the Act does allow the Employer to ask for proof of the domestic violence when a request for Domestic Violence Leave is made. The Employer will need to take care when deciding whether requesting proof is reasonable in the circumstances.
Where a request for proof is made by the Employer both the Employer and the Employee need to act in good faith. There is no guidance on what proof can be asked for. However proof could include things like a letter from a support worker, reports from medical professionals or Police, and orders made by the Court. Once again the Employer will need to ensure any proof received is treated as confidential and that the Employee’s privacy is not breached in any way.
An Employer must respond to the request for Domestic Violence Leave as soon as possible but not later than 10 working days after receiving it, and must notify the Employee in writing of whether his or her request has been approved or refused
In or before giving the notification the Employer must provide the Employee with information about appropriate specialist domestic violence support services.
If the Employer refuses an Employee’s request, the notification given must:
state that the request is refused because proof required to be produced was not produced within 10 working days after the Employer receives the request and/or that the request cannot be accommodated reasonably on 1 or more of the non-accommodation grounds specified in section 69ABF(2) of the Act;
state the ground or grounds for the refusal; and
explain the reasons for that ground or those grounds.
Now is a good time for Employers to consider whether they have the right procedures in place to ensure that Employees affected by domestic violence are not treated adversely in the workplace.
It is worthwhile reviewing current employment agreements and policies with the new entitlement for Domestic Violence Leave in mind. As noted above a domestic violence policy which explains how requests for Domestic Violence Leave are handled and how the Employer will provide support can help, as well as updating flexible work policies.
At Pitt & Moore Lawyers our employment team can prepare and review Employment Agreements and Employment Policies, as well as review your current employment practices as part of an employment health check-up for your business.
If you would like advice on this topic or any other employment related issue please contact our Employment Team today.
Disclaimer: The information contained in this publication is of a general nature and is not intended as legal advice. It is important that you seek legal advice that is specific to your circumstances.