New Zealand made international headlines last year when we passed a bill granting leave for victims of domestic violence. Now it's going live - the new rules are introduced April 1st, 2019. This update has gotten a bit lost in all the noise about Payday Filing, but it's a significant change that all employers should brush up on! As always, we're here to keep you wise and compliant, so here's the nitty-gritty on the new legislation.
The new leave is for "people affected by" domestic violence, which covers anybody who experiences violence directly, or takes care of a child who experiences violence (a child is a person under 17). Affected employees are entitled to take up to 10 days paid leave each year.
The time off is to allow employees to deal with the effects of domestic violence. So it's not necessarily to be taken immediately after experiencing domestic violence - in fact, the legislation specifies that an employee can take time off to deal with those effects, even if the violence itself occurred a while ago, or before the start of their employment. The effects could be a physical injury - but could also be financial harm, or dealing with ongoing impact through counselling, attending court or moving house.
The basic rules are a lot like sick leave:
- employees are entitled after 6 months work
- the leave can be advanced (at the employer's risk)
- casual employees have the same entitlement (10 days), if they've worked at least 40 hours a month, 10 a week, for the last 6 months
- the leave shouldn't be paid out if not taken
- unlike sick leave, it never carries over
The employee needs to request the leave with as much notice as they can. Employers can request evidence of domestic violence. They need to ask for proof as early as possible, and within 3 working days of the leave request being made.
The employer can refuse to pay if the employee doesn't produce proof, but only "without (a) reasonable excuse". Exactly what that proof should be hasn't been set out officially, but may be a doctor's certificate or police report.
It's important to be aware that domestic violence isn't only physical, but also covers threats, harassment, property damage and financial abuse. This might determine the kind of proof the employee provides.
The Other Bit
There's another part of this bill that didn't make it to the headlines - it also sets out allowances for flexible work conditions. Those affected by domestic violence can arrange to change the hours, location, or nature of their work for up to two months. The employee has to request the change in writing, and the employer needs to respond within ten working days. The employer can say no if the employee can't produce proof of domestic violence. They can also say no if changes to the employee's work will cause a serious issue, costing the business money or leaving them short-staffed. The full list of grounds for turning down requests is listed on www.legislation.govt.nz.
Whether they say yes or no to a request, the employer has to offer information about domestic violence support services - so keep a few brochures or leaflets on hand.
Obviously, domestic violence is a sensitive issue, and privacy will be an important part of how to handle it in your business. This is a new and fairly unique leave type, so it'll probably take some time before firm best-practice guidelines are established. If you do run into it, tread gently. Stay within the required times for responses and requests, offer support resources, and treat any requests with discretion and respect. If you're worried, get some help from an expert - our team is always here to chat.