20The Modern Awards have been varied to allow employees access to five days of unpaid family and domestic violence leave each year.
Senior Employment Adviser at workplace specialist firm Employsure, Nicholas Hackenberg, said, “This is the first time the Fair Work Commission and the Fair Work Ombudsman are making it a requirement for business owners to have a policy for dealing with domestic violence and supporting victims.
“Employers should always take the necessary steps to ensure staff feel comfortable talking to them about sensitive topics such as domestic violence. They need to reassure their staff that all conversations will be handled appropriately and will be confidential,” Hackenberg added.
What is the entitlement?
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, or causes them fear or harm.
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.
Who does it apply to?
This entitlement applies to “all employees, including casuals, who are covered by an industry or occupation based Award. It does not apply to state system employees, or employees otherwise not covered by an Award.”
Men suffer domestic violence, too
Domestic violence in men is understudied and often hidden. According to Australian Institute of Criminology figures, one woman is killed by an intimate partner or ex-partner every nine days. One man is killed by his partner about every 30 days. So, it is important to acknowledge that male violence is “still, one too many” Hackenberg said.
Despite this leave being introduced largely from public pressure to protect women, Hackenberg said that employers cannot assume men are exempt from domestic violence. Especially, he explained, since statistics show many men suffer but are afraid or embarrassed to come forward.
What do employers need to do?
According to Hackenberg, it’s essential for employers to communicate this new leave entitlement to employees, to ensure they are aware of how and when to notify them of their request for this leave. “The notice requirements are similar to personal leave requests,” he said. “Employers can set their expectations. The best way to do this is to first have an open and relaxed conversation with employees about this leave entitlement and how they want them to approach taking some time off. Then, employers should include it in their policy.”