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Domestic violence leave: employers should offer more than the baseline

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.

Safety first

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.

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John Fawcett
John Fawcett

Why does the author only reference women in the sample of victims? It is estimated that in the mix of domestic violence in the Australian community at least up to a quarter of cases men are victims (similar figures and higher exist abroad). This does not take into account emotional/psychological trauma which Australian men are so good at not dealing with, never-mind the obvious lack of reporting violence towards them. This has ramifications for employee support initiatives. Men are just entitled to an understanding ear as women are, even although presently this appears quite obviously to be biased in itself.

Bernadette Heine
Bernadette Heine

A word to the wise, tread carefully when setting the DV leave up in your HR and Payroll application if you decide to set it up in a system at all, Not best practice to have it coded or named in such a way that it is easily identifiable to managers and operators within “systems” as to who has applied for and taken this type of leave. Consider the employee at all times and manage appropriately. #privacy #protection

Mary Tehan
Mary Tehan

A sense of shared responsibility (with an awareness that there are different levels) is what makes for a decent and wholesome workplace regardless of gender. Access to discretionary funds is essential for any employer to be able to offer support to employees who need time-out in order for them to be able to address domestic violence-related needs. Without these extra funds, extra resources are not able to be provided. Government policy that offers some financial assistance to employees or employers who find themselves in this situation would go a long way towards developing a workplace culture whereby a sense of… Read more »

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