Since 1 April 2019, employees who are affected by family violence may request 10 days of paid leave each year, and a short-term variation of their working arrangements for up to two months at a time.
The amendments to the Employment Relations Act 2000, the Holidays Act 2003 and the Human Rights Act 1993 contain a number of potential pitfalls for employers. In addition, from 1 July 2019, new legislation will replace the existing Domestic Violence Act that will broaden the definition of family violence and who might be affected by it.
We recommend that businesses consider developing and implementing a policy to help both employers and employees understand their rights and responsibilities with regard to managing how the effects of family violence can affect people in the workplace.
New Zealand has some of the worst family violence statistics in the developed world. In 2016, the New Zealand police investigated 118,910 incidents of family violence, which is the equivalent of about one police call-out every five minutes.(1) One in three women report having been abused by their partner at some point in their lives, which suggests that family violence exists on all levels of New Zealand society, regardless of race, wealth and educational background.(2) It is also costing the country at least $4.1 billion a year in healthcare, law enforcement and loss of productivity.(3)
In an effort to combat the effects of family violence in New Zealand, Parliament passed the Domestic Violence - Victims' Protection Act 2018. The Act prohibits discrimination on the grounds of being a person affected by domestic violence, provides employees with an entitlement to up to 10 days’ paid leave each year, and enables employees to request a short-term variation of their ordinary work arrangements. In order to receive these entitlements, the employee must be a person affected by family violence, regardless of whether the family violence occurred during the employment relationship.
Family violence, also known as domestic violence, may occur between spouses or partners, other family members, or between people who ordinarily share a household or have a close personal relationship. It includes physical, sexual, and psychological abuse. From 1 July 2019, it will also include a pattern of behaviour that is coercive or controlling, causes cumulative harm, or is related to dowry for a marriage or proposed marriage.
The entitlement to family violence leave accrues after six months of continuous service and, similar to an employee's sick leave entitlement, does not get paid out to the employee at the end of their employment. Unlike sick leave, the employee's entitlement does not roll over year-on-year.
A request for short-term flexible working arrangements involves a variation of an employee's usual working arrangements, such as their ordinary days of work, hours of work and duties for a period of up to two months. Employers may refuse such a request on limited grounds and must respond to that request within 10 days of receiving the request.
The issue of 'proof' to establish an employee is someone affected by family violence is not prescribed in the Act and this is an area which may cause difficulties for employers as many domestic violence victims have only their own word as evidence.
There are a number of obligations in the new legislation that employers need to be aware of. We strongly recommend employers introduce a family violence policy to ensure both employers and employees are aware of their entitlements and obligations under this new legislation.
As of 6 May 2019, several other changes to New Zealand employment law have come into effect.
We recommend employer's take the time to review their employment agreements in light of these changes.
Please contact anyone in our Employment Law Team for assistance with a Family Violence Leave Policy or further information on the new legislation.