New domestic violence provisions in Awards only provide a baseline for employers, who should consider going above and beyond.
Most Australian employees covered by modern awards will be entitled to five days unpaid leave if they are subject to family or domestic violence following a ruling by the Fair Work Commission. Details are yet to be finalised but they are merely expected to provide a baseline, which more employers must consider around domestic violence.
Handling a domestic violence issue can be incredibly challenging, and is not something an organisation can do on the run. Having policies and procedures in place on domestic violence, documented guidelines for managers to follow, and resources they can access is recommended to ensure the health, safety and welfare of employees.
Sadly, there are pervasive impacts from this endemic social problem. Reports suggest one in four women in Australia have experienced domestic violence, but it’s also known to be under-reported. Domestic violence is the leading contributor to death and disability among Australian women aged 15-44 years old.
The Fair Work Commission’s domestic violence leave extends beyond employees’ existing sick leave and personal carers leave entitlements – it gives employees time to go to the police, pursue legal advice, arrange for new accommodation and so on.
The domestic violence leave is also not pro-rata. It will apply to all employees including casuals under awards from their first day of work. The leave will be credited to all employees when they commence work but will not be cumulative – it will re-set each year to offer the same five-day unpaid entitlement.
Do more than the minimum
Even with this new national entitlement, there is nothing stopping employers putting in place domestic violence policies which cover all employees across organisations, beyond those covered by the amended Awards. It will undoubtedly be appreciated by employees, who are increasingly altruistic and passionate about the elimination of domestic violence as a societal issue, and judging employers on their corporate and social responsibility initiatives.
Employers seeking to make a difference and affect change with diversity and inclusion initiatives are likely to implement best practice policies and recognise this broader issue, which occurs across all spectrums of society.
When constructing policies the award forms a baseline, although its terms shouldn’t be reproduced in policy or contractual documents without flexibility to allow for variation should the provisions change. Beyond those provisions, employers may then consider other initiatives such as urgent financial support based on an application and discretionary basis. As an example, many financial and professional services firms offer such provisions and more generous entitlements, including up to 10 days paid leave for domestic violence.
Recent reports suggest these larger corporations remain committed to their more generous provisions, some offering uncapped domestic violence leave to victims, sending a strong message to their workforce and the community about their commitment to the welfare of families affected.
Policies should also stipulate, again with some flexibility, how much notice should be provided and what evidence is required for domestic violence leave. The model award will provide a framework for notice and evidence potentially including documents from the police, the courts, health professionals, support networks and more.
Policies can provide guidance on how domestic violence may be reported to an employer, and must respect confidentiality. There needs to be appropriate contact points in the office and assurances may need to be provided to employees about how information collected will be stored or suppressed on personnel files, and who will have access to it.
Beyond policies regarding employee entitlements and supports, internal management guidelines are recommended with associated guidance and training around confidential, compassionate, careful management of these issues and escalation procedures to ensure the health and safety of employees.
Employers will need to consider the broader safety situation and take precautions if there is any threat an offender will enter the workplace or wait for an employee outside the workplace, a likely occurrence when victims leave their homes. It’s important to identify safety steps that will help protect the employee and the workplace generally from a potential threat.
Further, employers should identify employer assistance programs and understand what support the workplace can provide, and direct the employee to other specialist providers and support networks if required – often, employers will provide both to meet best practice.
Communication is also critically important and it is recommend employers not only explain the program to staff, but provide tailored training programs for employees and managers ensuring employees understand their entitlements and what’s involved in identifying and reporting domestic violence issues.
When an issue arises, its impact on the workplace can be disruptive and potentially destructive. Compassionate management of these issues and supporting employees through them can speak volumes, and will likely be rewarded with loyalty.
This content is general commentary and opinion of the writer provided for information and interest only. It is not intended to be comprehensive, and it does not constitute and must not be relied upon as legal advice. Readers should obtain specific advice relating to their particular circumstances.
This is an edited version of an article originally published here.
Get an overview of HR-related policies and practices that support victims of domestic violence in Australian workplaces with AHRI’s Domestic Violence and HR Report (2017). Exclusive to AHRI members.