New domestic violence leave laws – what employers need to know

What is “family and domestic violence leave”?
It’s a sad reflection of a societal problem that it has been deemed necessary for legislation to be passed to allow sufferers of domestic violence to take unpaid leave from work to deal with the consequences of their situation. This may be arrange different accommodation, participate in court or police proceedings, or other emergency activity that it would be impractical to do outside of their ordinary working hours.
How does it work?
The law now provides for all those covered by an award to immediately qualify for up to five days’ emergency unpaid leave. This does not need to be accrued, nor does it accrue from year to year. By way of example, if an employee started work with your business today, they are immediately entitled to five days. Whether or not this employee may take any or all of these days during the following year, on the anniversary of their employment the entitlement is reset to 5 days.
What evidence can an employer request?
Naturally employers wouldn’t wish such a thing on any member of their team, but regrettably there will always be an element who see an opportunity to swing some extra leave. The employer’s discretion can be used in whether or not to require evidence, and there is no minimum period for which an employer may request such evidence if they see fit. Fair work suggests documents from the police, family violence support service or court would be appropriate or a signed statutory declaration. As is common in such matters, the reasonable person test applies: is such evidence as presented likely to satisfy a reasonable person?
What are my obligations as an employer?
Employers are required to make such leave available to their employees who need it. They are not required to pay the employee during their period/s of family and domestic leave, but may make discretionary payments if they wished. Employers have a duty of confidentiality, and must take all reasonable steps to ensure the confidentiality of the employee is maintained particularly in respect of the reason for their absence and any evidence they may submit.
What else can I do?
Obviously it’s better for all concerned if your employee can change their situation before an escalating domestic situation results in violence. While sufferers of domestic violence commonly go to extreme lengths to hide the truth, there are very often tell-tale signs long before. If an employee is seeming distant, distracted or just not their usual self it’s quite OK to ask them if everything is alright, though of course this must be done in strict confidence. Many employers engage the services of EAP – Employee Assistance Provider – companies to allow their employees access to completely impartial advice on a host of matters.
Policy and culture considerations.
Business owners should naturally look to update their leave policies to reflect the new legislation, but more importantly this serves as a reminder of the importance of developing a culture within your business where vulnerable employees would feel able to approach their manager for help or advice before any domestic situation got out of control.
How can we help?
At Cornerstone we often conduct regular ‘pulse checks’ with our clients’ employees. These would typically take place quarterly just to make sure the employee were on track and doing well. Our team of people specialists are highly skilled at spotting changes and can work with your employee to guide them in both work and domestic concerns. Get in touch with our Perth HR Consultants to find out more on this or any other HR issue.