Time to prepare: Family and domestic violence leave

by External08 Jul 2016
It has been an issue much-debated in Australia over the past 12 months, but where do Australian businesses stand in relation to family and domestic violence leave? Lisa Burrell reports

The issue of family and domestic violence is one that continues to generate widespread debate around recognising and addressing the problem, including providing ongoing structural supports. A key discussion in the context of employee leave is whether this is a community issue, a workplace issue, an individual issue, or all of the above.
 
The issue itself is, of course, not a new phenomenon. However, in recent times there has been an increased spotlight on the problem and its prevalence within Australia.
 
On first consideration, while it is generally recognised that the societal and economic impacts are extensive, it would seem that this is not an issue that would naturally find its way into the employment sphere. In practice, there are currently multiple workplace avenues being considered and utilised for support and assistance, including the potential of family violence leave becoming something that will ultimately sit alongside other forms of legislated leave, such as personal, carers’ and compassionate leave.
 
How are employers approaching this?
The Productivity Commission (“PC”) in its review of the workplace relations framework noted the entitlements within enterprise agreements approved over a 3.5-year period, with 840 (3.7%) holding an entitlement, covering over half a million employees.
From our direct work with employers at the Victorian Chamber, we see new entitlements continuing to arise both from policy frameworks and enterprise agreements. In our experience, these are most commonly taking the form of separate leave entitlements, or an explicit expression that the employer will support the individual through the experience, including the granting of existing forms of leave, such as personal leave. In reality, this is also reflective of the manner in which individual circumstances are routinely managed at many enterprise levels.
 
What is the legislative response?
The PC outlined a range of reviews that have been undertaken from 2011 onwards, recognising that employment can be seriously affected. It also observed the likely costs impact of a legislated response invoking employer-funded paid leave, including that the current information does not provide good insight into the magnitude of these.
 
Ultimately, the PC recommended awaiting the outcome of the current four-year modern award review process, for the decision on an Australian Council of Trade Unions (“ACTU”) application. It also noted that this timeframe would capture a now-completed Victorian review. This contained over 200 recommendations, including supplementing the NES with additional leave, with the report to be considered by the Council of Australian Governments.
 
The proposed entitlement by the ACTU is for 10 days access to paid leave, and two days access to unpaid leave, with leave to be utilised for issues associated with family and domestic violence, including attending appointments, legal proceedings and other activities associated with the experience. At the time of writing, the matter is scheduled to be heard in October 2016.
 
The current situation
There are opposing employer views on where these solutions should come and be funded from, including that any mandatory leave arrangements within the workplace relations system is a cost that should be borne by the government, rather than individual employers.
 
Many businesses continue to implement support through expanding policies, employee awareness and training to support individual workers. At this time, there are a range of available options for employers to proactively implement specifi c enterprise level supports. However, there is not currently a legislated mandate to do so. Given the timelines and current processes, practitioners should have regard to the potential of these changes in their current planning.
 

Lisa Burrell is the general manager of the Victorian Employers' Chamber of Commerce and Industry (VECCI). VEECI is Victoria’s most influential employer group, servicing over 15,000 Victorian businesses per annum. An independent, non-government body, VECCI was founded in 1851 by the business community to represent business.