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Domestic Violence Leave in Australia

Employees in Australia can now take five days of unpaid leave each year for family and domestic violence. What does this really mean?

Family violence is violence between family members, whether that be physical, emotional or economical. Domestic violence is a sub-category of family violence which refers to violence between either current or previous intimate partners. While there is no single definition of Family and Domestic violence, there is a common thread of control and dominance over victims.

1 in 6 Australian women and 1 in 16 men have experienced physical violence from a current or former partner. 1 in 4 women and 1 in 6 men have experienced emotional abuse from a current or former partner. This means that over 800,000 women in Australia’s workforce have, or are currently experiencing violence.

These are not only staggering numbers but are not a true reflection of the prevalence of violence in Australia, as many victims do not speak out. Of those that do, it is alarming to hear that only 10% of people who did speak to their manager in the workplace about what they were experiencing, found that the response was helpful. (McFerran, L. (2011). Safe at Home, Safe at Work? National domestic violence and the workplace survey).

The Full Bench of the Fair Work Commission’s 2018 decision has extended domestic violence leave, now making it part of the National Employment Standards.

If you are suffering with Family or Domestic Violence, your workplace is required to offer you unpaid leave, above and beyond your normal annual leave entitlements. The decision of the Full Bench means that all employees (including casual employees) in Australia can now take five days of unpaid leave each year. This may be taken for things which are ‘impractical for the employee to do that thing outside the employee’s ordinary hours of work’. This may include attending hearings or attending appointments, for example. Workers covered by an enterprise agreement may have access to more than five days.

It is important to note that this leave can be taken as one whole period, in single days or periods less than one day, by agreement. This is to accommodate an employee’s particular needs, for example, the employee may take half a day to attend an appointment.

This entitlement is available for every twelve months of service. Whilst employees do not need to accrue the entitlement, it cannot be rolled over into the next year.

Employees taking domestic violence leave must let their employer know as soon as possible, noting that this may be after the leave has started. They must also advise how long they expect the leave to last. The employer may request evidence, for example documents issued by Police or a Court, family violence support service documentation or a statutory declaration.

Unlike other jurisdictions such as New Zealand and Canada, this leave is unpaid. While not perfect, it is a step in the right direction. The decision of the Full Bench allows workplaces to actively engage in supporting their employees who are suffering from family and domestic violence.

If you feel that you need legal advice on family matters, our experienced team at Dobson Mitchell Allport will be able to assist you.