Employment Law Update: New Domestic Violence Leave (unpaid) to be granted to employees

In 2018, the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) released its first comprehensive report on family, domestic and sexual violence in Australia. The results are alarming. In just one of the statistics cited, the AIHW Report states that in 2015–16 the financial cost of violence against women and their children in Australia was estimated at $22 billion.

To combat the scourge of domestic violence, the Federal Government (together with many state and territory governments) have identified a number of important strategic priorities to support victims in their time of need. These include greater access to domestic violence services, reforms to the justice system and the increased use of educational campaigns.

Commencing today, there is another initiative. Following a Fair Work Commission decision in July, most employees can now take unpaid leave to deal with family and domestic violence. Employees covered by an award with the new clause are entitled to five days of unpaid family and domestic violence leave each year. Family and domestic violence means violent, threatening or other abusive behaviour by an employee's family member that:

· seeks to coerce or control the employee

· causes them harm or fear.

Employees can take the leave if they need to deal with the impact of family and domestic violence and it's impractical to do so outside their ordinary hours of work.

The Federal Government has announced an intention to amend the Fair Work Act to provide the same unpaid domestic violence leave entitlement to all national system employees such as those on enterprise agreements.

Message for employees seeking to rely on the leave

As an employee you will need to adhere to the standard notice and evidence requirements prescribed by the Fair Work Act to support your claim for unpaid leave.

Consistent with your rights, you should also request that your employer treat your matter confidentially.

Message for Employers or Businesses

With the prevalence of domestic violence in Australia still at unacceptably high levels, it is likely that managers will be called upon to deal with applications for leave of this kind. Managers and organisations will need to plan for domestic violence absenteeism accordingly.

Employers need to be mindful of their duties of confidentiality and have systems and structures in place that promote this.

Confidential information, counselling and support for people impacted by domestic and family violence is available at the 1800 RESPCT website, which provides the national sexual assault, domestic and family violence counselling service.

© 2017 Sebastian De Brennan. Barrister at Law