In recent years a national dialogue about family violence has taken place in Australia.
Many Australians are now aware of the high incidence of family violence in the community and the importance of an integrated response to reduce it. Family Violence Leave has emerged as a way for employers to engage in this response by providing organisational support to employees experiencing family violence¹.
The purpose of Family Violence Leave is to enable employees to take paid time off work to attend court appearances, legal appointments and to find accommodation. It also recognises the prevalence of workplace stalking in family violence situations.
Family violence clauses in enterprise agreements
Employers began introducing Family Violence Leave clauses into their enterprise agreements from 2010. By March 2016, more than one million Australians were covered by enterprise agreements containing Family Violence Leave clauses¹.
The Full Bench of the Fair Work Commission is currently considering whether Family Violence Leave clauses should be included in all Modern Awards, as part of its four yearly Modern Award review. While obviously this inclusion would significantly increase the number of Australians with access to family violence leave, the question for the Commission is whether inserting such an entitlement is necessary to achieve the objective of a fair and relevant safety net of terms and conditions in modern awards.
While Deputy President Gooley and Commissioner Spencer are yet to deliver their decisions, Vice President Watson delivered his on 27 February 2017. He recognised that domestic violence is a serious social problem but rejected the inclusion of the Family Violence Leave clause as part of the Modern Award safety net, saying that it “did not mandate an open, positive, considerate and collaborative approach”. He considered that the better approach was “to build awareness of the issue and to encourage a considerate, collaborative and flexible approach by employers and affected employees”.
With Deputy President Gooley and Commissioner Spencer’s decisions yet to be handed down, it remains to be seen what the final outcome will be.
Family Violence Leave policies
An alternative to having a Family Violence Leave clause in an enterprise agreement is to adopt a family violence leave policy, which can enable employees to request flexible work arrangements, access counselling services and/or develop a safety plan. The policy can also trigger a workplace conversation about safety measures the employer could implement to allow an employee to continue performing their duties safely and productively.
In May 2016, Russell Kennedy introduced its own Family Violence Leave policy. This policy is designed to support employees experiencing family violence by enabling them to continue to participate in the workforce and create a supportive work environment in which employees feel comfortable requesting assistance.
Under the Family Violence Leave policy, eligible Russell Kennedy employees may:
- access up to 10 days per annum of paid Family Violence Leave;
- develop a safety plan to assist them to perform their duties safely and productively; and/or
- receive counselling.