Domestic violence is a serious concern within Australia. As individuals become more empowered to speak out and gain support, employers must regularly assess how their organisations can support victims and maintain compliance with legislative requirements.
What is Domestic Violence and Family and Domestic Violence Leave?
Family and Domestic Violence Leave (FDVL) exists to allow employees to take time away from work to deal with issues concerning domestic violence against themselves or their direct family in the circumstance that it is not possible to do so outside their scheduled work hours.
Under the Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth) (FWA), domestic violence is defined as violent, threatening, or other abusive behaviour by an employee's close relative which seeks to coerce or control the employee and causes them harm or fear.
Currently, all employees (including part-time and casual employees) are entitled to five (5) days of unpaid family, and domestic violence leave each year. The entitlement to unpaid family and domestic violence leave comes from the National Employment Standards (NES). It exists in addition to other leave entitlements, is unpaid and does not accumulate from year to year.
What is changing? Introduction to Paid Family and Domestic Violence Leave.
On 28 July 2022, the federal government introduced the Fair Work Amendment (Paid Family & Domestic Violence Leave) Bill into parliament. The new paid entitlement is scheduled to come into effect on 1 February 2023 for all businesses except small businesses. For small businesses (i.e. those employing less than 15 employees), an additional transition period is provided, with the new laws taking effect on 1 August 2023.
The proposed legislation doubles the amount of family and domestic violence leave from five (5) days to ten (10) days. It ensures all employees, including casuals who have been rostered, are paid an amount equal to what they would have earned had they worked instead of taking the leave.
The ten (10) days of FDVL are accessible "upfront" upon commencement of employment, and it resets each year on the person's work anniversary. The current notice and evidence requirements remain unchanged and deliberately flexible, and FDVL is not paid out on termination.
The new section will entitle permanent staff (i.e. full-time and part-time) who take FDVL to be paid at the employee's full rate of pay worked out as if the employee had not taken the period of leave.
A casual employee who takes a period of FDVL is entitled to be paid at their full rate of pay for the hours they would have worked or was rostered to work in that period.
What does your business need to do?
1. Remain Compliant with the Changes to Legislation
Update your company policies to reflect the new entitlement. It may be beneficial to introduce a standalone FDVL policy and information kit.
2. Include Support Strategies in Your Organisation and Policies
Does your policy instil confidence in victims to come forward? Do your employees understand their rights regarding this very difficult issue? What support mechanism do you have in place for FDV victims?
Remaining compliant with legislative changes is one thing, but the active implementation of support for these victims remains just as significant.
3. Maintain Confidentiality
Under the FWA, it is an obligation that all employers take active and meaningful steps to ensure any information will be treated confidentially and securely, to the extent possible and as required by law.
To create an environment where workers feel confident to talk about their experience of family and domestic violence, you should be able to demonstrate that such information will be kept private and confidential. Confidentiality is important because workers may not be willing to talk about their experience without knowing it is confidential.
4. Be supportive.
Establish open lines of communication with employees. Continue to encourage employees to speak to a manager about issues such as domestic violence.
October is usually associated with national domestic violence awareness month; however, an employer can provide support at any time by implementing their strategies or functions to raise money or awareness for the cause.
5. Consider requests for flexible working arrangements.
Any victim or individual caring for a victim is entitled to request flexible working arrangements under the FWA. If an employee were to request, it is your responsibility to accept that request within 21 days unless a refusal is made under reasonable business grounds. We recommend that businesses strongly consider their needs alongside the employee's needs and accommodate the request if possible.
6. Consider implementing an EAP
An Employee Assistance Program (EAP) is a work-based intervention program designed to enhance all employees' emotional, mental and general psychological wellbeing and includes services for immediate family members. The aim is to provide preventive and proactive interventions for the early detection, identification and/or resolution of work-related and personal problems that may adversely affect performance and wellbeing. These problems and issues may include but are not limited to relationships, health, trauma, substance abuse, gambling and other addictions, financial problems, depression, anxiety disorders, psychiatric disorders, communication problems, and legal and coping with change.
Feeling Overwhelmed or Not Sure Where to Start?
Standard Candle HR can help you to remain compliant with Australian Industrial Relations and Employment Laws. We can assist you by redrafting your employment contracts and company policies to reflect the legislation changes and ensure you remain compliant with employment laws.
If family and domestic violence impact you or someone you know, reach out to the 1800 RESPECT website or call 1800 737 732, the national sexual assault, domestic and family violence counselling service.