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Domestic Violence Leave Update.
Leave entitlementsJuly 20, 2017
In my role with Employsure, it is important to keep on top of legislative trends that can impact our clients. Of late, I have been following the debate surrounding domestic violence leave, which has been going for some time now and has presented varied opinions across both employer and employee advocates.
Domestic violence is a growing issue in Australia that can be influenced by a number of social, cultural and economic factors. This month the Fair Work Commission (FWC) released their decision on including paid domestic violence leave as a separate entitlement in Modern Awards, concluding not to amend Modern Awards to provide for paid domestic violence leave.
As of April 2016 a nationwide count found Police were dealing with an average of 5,000 cases of domestic violence a week and aside from the significant psychological costs to those involved, there is an estimated financial cost to the economy of $21.7 billion per year. This figure comes from the total health and criminal justice service funds and a loss of productivity to the workplace.
In an attempt to tackle the issue, there was an argument recently put forward to the Fair Work Commission that additional paid domestic violence leave should be afforded to all Award covered employees. After hearing perspectives of both employers and employees, the FWC determined additional paid leave alone did not hold enough merit to assist in resolving the impact on workplaces. The FWC did however open the conversation up to some form of leave for employees by way of access to existing leave or other unpaid leave.
Employees have access to a number of legal avenues that could assist them through the effects of domestic violence such as requesting flexible working arrangements, utilising other types of leave and protection from unfair or unlawful dismissal. Employers also have an obligation to ensure a safe workplace for all, and this can be crucial in the event of an issue being brought into the workplace by the person inflicting the violence or by the employee as the victim.
The FWC noted that the current laws may not always be successfully accessed by employees and therefore changes that are more specific to this issue may be needed, but not in a paid leave capacity at this time.
Despite the official ruling, there are a number of government and private organisations already offering domestic violence leave, including Telstra, several organisations in the Northern Territory, the Queensland Industrial Relations System, and public sector workers in Western Australia. This type of leave is in its infancy and studies completed by Gendered Violence Research Network showed that less than 1% of the Telstra workforce are currently making use of it.
While the FWC concluded at present there is not a strong enough case to include paid domestic violence leave into Modern Awards, employers still have an important role to play in identifying, understanding and supporting domestic violence. In light of this, the FWC is now taking submissions on a provision for unpaid domestic violence leave, setting the scene for future debate in this area.