On 1 April a new Act come into force called The Domestic Violence – Victims Protection Act. This article summarises what the Act is about, what the requirements are for business owners and employers, in complying with the Act.
It is a serious subject. NZ has one of the highest rates of domestic violence in the world, with Police responding to a family violence incident every four minutes. When you consider that more than 40% of domestic violence victims are in paid employment, the impact on NZ workplaces is huge.
Impact of the workplace
Domestic violence does affect engagement and productivity (costing employers $368 million annually due to lost productivity). Also, employees who are impacted by domestic violence are more likely to have a workplace accident because they may:
- Be distressed, depressed, anxious, distracted and fearful at work
- Need to take time off work to attend court, seek medical attention etc
- Have their ability to work sabotaged (e.g. car damaged so they can’t get to work)
- Leave their job to hide or escape from their abuser
There is also a ripple effect when co-workers provide cover for a late, absent or less than productive employee, spend work time trying to support their colleague and sometimes on occasions getting unsafely involved or maybe they get distracted from their own work because they are unsure as to how to help their colleague.
Requirement for Employers
The Domestic Violence – Victims Protection Act is for employers to assist employees affected by domestic violence, by supporting them to remain in paid employment by providing for:
- Flexible working arrangements; and
- Paid domestic violence leave
In summary, the main points under the Act:
- Amends the Employment Relations Act to allow workers affected by domestic violence (including those who live with a child affected by domestic violence) to ask for a short-term variation in their working arrangements (2 months or shorter). Workers can subsequently ask for their short-term variation to be extended or made permanent.
- Employers must respond within 10 working days of receiving a request but can ask for proof the worker (or child) is affected by domestic violence and have a right of refusal. Grounds for refusal are specified in the Act.
- If an employer fails to respond as required, the matter will be treated as an employment relationship problem.
- Amends the Holidays Act to provide any worker affected by domestic violence (including a worker who lives with a child affected by domestic violence) with up to 10 days paid domestic violence leave.
- To be eligible for leave the employee must have worked continuously for the employer for 6 months for an average of 10 hours a week, working at least 1 hour each week and 40 in each month. Leave may be taken sooner by agreement. Payment is average daily pay or relevant daily pay.
- Really important to note that leave can be requested whether the violence is currently occurring or occurred at some earlier time, even if that was before the person affected came to work for the employer.
- The 10 days’ domestic violence leave is available only within each 12-month period and can’t be carried over to the following 12-months.
Dealing with Privacy Issues
The onus will be on employers to ensure that any requests for domestic violence leave are made privately and confidentially. If you do receive a request for Paid Domestic Violence Leave, try to restrict the scope of who needs to know. Keep information on a ‘need to know’ basis and consider wisely who will have visibility and access to this information as it should be handled with extreme care.
You will have to take into account how the leave will be recorded on payslips and where will the leave requests be kept? It is advisable that they are kept separate from employee information that others may have access to.
The best way to ensure you’re ready for this change is to have an effective HR Domestic Violence policy and procedures, so give me a call and we can assist you with this.
Importance of good HR policies
HR policies and procedures are essential in any business, and I have seen many employers caught out by not having anything, or they have a policy but don’t follow it.
How many have, for example, a Bullying & Harassment policy, or a Performance/Conduct in the workplace policy which sets out terms of reference, responsibilities for both employer and employee and the process to follow?
One owner I spoke to recently was caught out by an employee who wanted to lay a formal complaint for being bullied by another employee. The company had no policy or process documented. The employee ended up frustrated and they took a personal grievance against the company. When the employee’s legal representative asked the owner where their Bullying & Harassment policy was and they said they didn’t have one, well long story short – they were toast and had to open their cheque book.
We don’t want you to get to that stage, so please don’t hesitate to give me a call and we can get you the right HR policies, customised for your workplace, so that you never find yourself in the position of having to say ‘umm…sorry we don’t have a policy for that’.