Up to six million Australians will now have access to a guaranteed entitlement of five days’ unpaid family and domestic violence leave – but is it enough?
Health Minister Greg Hunt has announced the passage through Federal Parliament of legislation which entitles employees to family and domestic violence leave as a workplace right, in the National Employment Standards, for the first time.
The changes will see the Fair Work Act amended to offer an entitlement to unpaid family and domestic violence leave in the National Employment Standards. This entitlement applies to six million Australian employees, including those working full-time, casually, and part-time across all industries.
“It is a terrible reality that family and domestic violence are sadly part of the lives of some Australians,” Minister Hunt said. “Those stuck in domestic violence situations need all the tools available to them to break the cycle of abuse and improve their own lives.”
“The Coalition Government has zero tolerance for family and domestic violence, and these legislative changes ensure that those stuck in these horrific situations do not have to worry that their careers, the very thing that can help establish a new and better life for them, will be placed under threat because of their courage to break the cycle of violence.
“Australians who need to take leave to deal with the impact of family and domestic violence will be able to do so safe in the knowledge that their job is protected.”
The Fair Work Amendment (Family and Domestic Violence Leave) Bill 2018 extends the decision of the Fair Work Commission in March 2018 to grant five days’ unpaid leave to employees covered by modern awards to other employees covered by the Fair Work Act.
Minister for Jobs and Industrial Relations and Minister for Women, Kelly O’Dwyer, said that “Regardless of the basis of their employment or the size of their employer, this change will provide a universal safety net entitlement for workers under the Fair Work Act.”
However Michelle Luarte, a National Industrial Officer and Lawyer within the Workplace Advice and Support team at Professionals Australia – which includes Professional Pharmacists Australia, the union for employee pharmacists – says more may be needed.
In a piece discussing issues faced by women in the workplace – including sexual harassment and pregnancy discrimination as well as domestic violence – Ms Luarte welcomed the introduction of the five days’ leave.
“The introduction of this clause marks a positive step towards recognising that family violence is a complex issue that does not simply affect a person’s private life but can also impact their broader public life including employment,” she writes.
“Though in considering the practical reality of family violence, it is arguable that five days unpaid family violence leave is simply not enough.
“The family violence leave entitlement is only available to employees after completing 12 months of continuous service. Currently speaking, there is no requirement for enterprise agreements to contain a term providing for family and domestic violence leave, and there is no similar entitlement for award or agreement free employees.
She says that the Australian Council of Trade Unions submits that the entitlement to five days family and domestic violence leave should be paid.
This would consider “the potential costs associated in leaving an abusive relationship including hiring a removalist, relocation costs, childcare, counselling, solicitor fees in court appearances, and amending utility and/or rent bills,” she writes.
“Applying for an intervention order may also take several days, particularly if the matter is adjourned and/or further documentation is requested by the court.”
Senior Employment Relations Adviser, from workplace specialist firm Employsure, Andrew Spiteri says that the Bill makes it a requirement for employers to have a policy for dealing with domestic violence and supporting victims.
“Employers should always take the necessary steps to ensure staff feel safe talking about sensitive topics such as domestic violence.
“They need to reassure their staff that all conversations will be handled appropriately and will be confidential.”
In terms of how much proof an employee needs to provide to be eligible for the leave, Mr Spiteri says that the law is deliberately flexible to make it accessible.
“Therefore, there is no requirement for an AVO to be in place,” he says.
“However, there are some good ways to validate the request. The evidence can come in a number of forms: such as a police report, court documents, a note from a family violence support service, or a statutory declaration.”
He said employers must communicate the new leave entitlement to employees to ensure that they are aware of how and when to notify employers of a request for such leave.
“The notice requirements are similar to personal leave requests,” he says.
“Employers can set their expectations. The best way to do this is to first have an open and relaxed conversation with employees about this leave entitlement and how they want them to approach taking some time off.
“Then, employers should include it in their policy.”