DVFREE News

Domestic Violence Victims Protection Act: two years on

Domestic Violence Victims Protection Act: two years on

 

Thursday, April 1st 2021 marks two years since the Domestic Violence - Victims Protection Act 2018 took effect.

On Monday, Shine’s DVFREE & Policy Advisor, Holly Carrington, spoke to RNZ Nine to Noon host Kathryn Ryan about the impact of this law, how well it’s being implemented by employers and about the post-COVID trend for employees to work from home and what it means for employees experiencing domestic violence.

This issue also featured in a NZ Herald article.

So how are New Zealand employers doing with implementing this law?

As textbook examples, we have our DVFREE Tick partners who have gone above and beyond legal requirements by following Shine’s advice to provide the best possible support for impacted employees. Unfortunately, we have also heard of employers who aren’t yet aware of their legal obligation to provide paid domestic violence leave. We continue to hear from employers of all sizes who have yet to include the availability of paid domestic violence leave and flexible work arrangements in their policies and procedures.

What is the uptake of domestic violence leave from employers who proactively offer this leave?

In an informal survey of six of our larger DVFREE Tick partners (with a combined total of 18,800 employees), all reported less than 0.5% of their employees had asked for paid domestic violence leave in the two-year period from April 2019 to March 2021. On average, employees who accessed this leave used less than half of the available ten days per year. These employers all agreed this leave can be enormously beneficial for employee wellbeing, and amongst these employers, there was only one instance of an employee suspected of taking the leave without good reason.

These employers all offer this leave without requiring any proof of domestic violence. They also ensure it is recorded either as something other than ‘domestic violence’ or recorded completely separately from other forms of leave and accessible only by a small number of HR staff. All have trained First Responders who will proactively offer this leave to an employee seeking support, and information about the leave is easily accessible to staff through policy and/or procedures or information for staff on the workplace intranet.

The clear message here for other employers is that you can (and should) proactively offer this leave to your employees without requesting proof, and should not worry about a rush of employees lying about domestic violence to access the leave. The far bigger problem is that employees affected by domestic violence are not asking for their leave entitlement because of concerns about privacy or an impact on their employment and career opportunities.

How helpful has this law been for employees impacted by domestic violence?

The law has helped many more employers understand domestic violence is a workplace issue and that they have a legal obligation to provide support for employees impacted by domestic violence. It is fantastic to have a baseline requirement for 10 days per year of domestic violence paid leave and short term flexible working.

However, the law could certainly be improved. It provides only for short term flexible working of up to two months, which is wholly inadequate, given domestic violence situations so rarely resolve in this period of time. This potentially means an employee must seek a renewal of flexible work arrangements every two months when those arrangements are needed longer term or indefinitely.

The law allows employers to require proof of domestic violence before granting paid leave or flexible working without defining what constitutes proof. This sets up a significant barrier to employees accessing this leave as they are already likely to not disclose or seek workplace support because of a fear of not being believed or being judged.

Has the situation for employees impacted by domestic violence changed in the wake of COVID?

More and more employers are allowing, encouraging or requiring employees to work from home part or fulltime. No doubt this flexibility is very helpful for many, and when there’s a choice, employees who have concerns about working from home can elect to work from the office. This may be because someone shares their household who is abusive or controlling, or it may be that they are more vulnerable to abuse at home from a separated partner who is stalking them.

The big concern for these employees is when they are expected or required to work from home part or fulltime and are given no option to work from a worksite.

The DVFREE Guidelines for employers are currently being updated and will soon include a specific recommendation to offer a safer option for employees expected to work from home, and ensuring they are aware of how to access this option.

Are employers discriminating against employees impacted by domestic violence, in violation of the Human Rights Act?

The Domestic Violence - Victims Protection Act 2018 also amended the Human Rights Act, making it illegal for an employer to treat employees adversely because they are affected by domestic violence. Through our Helpline, Shine continues to hear from people experiencing domestic violence who believe they are being treated adversely by their employer.

The fear of being treated adversely by their employer may be enough to prevent an employee reaching out for help at all. Therefore it is imperative the tone and content of employers’ policies and procedures and information for staff, and the organisational culture clearly demonstrate that the organisation, and especially its senior leadership, places a priority on support for the wellbeing of its people.

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