New employment laws; keeping your business safe

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By Tradie HR director Leigh Olsen

 

On April 1, 2019, a new Act called The Domestic Violence – Victims Protection Act came into force. This article summarises what the Act is about, and what the requirements are for business owners and employers in complying with the Act.

It is a serious subject. New Zealand has one of the highest rates of domestic violence in the world, with police responding to a family violence incident every four minutes.

When you consider that more than 40% of domestic violence victims are in paid employment, the impact on New Zealand workplaces is huge.

 

Impact on the workplace

Domestic violence affects engagement and productivity, costing employers $368 million annually due to lost productivity. Also, employees who are impacted by domestic violence are more likely to have a workplace accident because they may:

• be distressed, depressed, anxious, distracted and fearful at work,

• need to take time off work to attend court, seek medical attention etc,

• have their ability to work sabotaged (e.g. a damaged car so they can’t get to work),

• leave their job to hide or escape from their abuser.

There is also a ripple effect when co-workers provide cover for a late, absent or less than productive employee, spend work time trying to support their colleague and, on occasion, become unsafely involved, or get distracted from their own work because they are unsure as to how to help their colleague.

 

Requirements for employers

The Domestic Violence – Victims Protection Act is for employers to assist employees affected by domestic violence, by supporting them to remain in paid employment by providing for:

• Flexible working arrangements, and

• Paid domestic violence leave.

 

In summary, the main points under the Act are: 

• Amends the Employment Relations Act to allow workers affected by domestic violence (including those who live with a child affected by domestic violence) to ask for a short-term variation in their working arrangements (two months or shorter). Workers can subsequently ask for their short-term variation to be extended or made permanent.

• Employers must respond within 10 working days of receiving a request, but can ask for proof that the worker (or child) is affected by domestic violence and have a right of refusal. Grounds for refusal are specified in the Act.

• If an employer fails to respond as required, the matter will be treated as an employment relationship problem.

• Amends the Holidays Act to provide any worker affected by domestic violence (including a worker who lives with a child affected by domestic violence) with up to 10 days’ paid domestic violence leave.

• To be eligible for leave the employee must have worked continuously for the employer for six months for an average of 10 hours a week, working at least one hour each week and 40 in each month. Leave may be taken sooner by agreement. Payment is average daily pay or relevant daily pay.

• It is important to note that leave can be requested whether the violence is currently occurring or occurred at some earlier time, even if that was before the person affected came to work for the employer.

• The 10 days’ domestic violence leave is available only within each 12-month period, and can’t be carried over to the following 12 months.

 

Dealing with privacy issues

The onus will be on employers to ensure that any requests for domestic violence leave are made privately and confidentially.

If you do receive a request for Paid Domestic Violence Leave, try to restrict the scope of who needs to know. Keep information on a “need to know” basis, and consider wisely who will have visibility and access to this information as it should be handled with extreme care.

You will have to take into account how the leave will be recorded on pay slips and where the leave requests will be kept. It is advisable that they are kept separate from employee information that others may have access to.

The best way to ensure you’re ready for this change is to have an effective HR Domestic Violence policy and procedures, so give me a call and we can assist you with this.

 

Importance of good HR policies

HR policies and procedures are essential in any business. I have seen many employers caught out by not having anything, or they have a policy but don’t follow it.

How many have, for example, a Bullying and Harassment policy, or a Performance/Conduct in the Workplace policy which sets out terms of reference, responsibilities for employer and employee, and the process to follow.

We don’t want you to get to get caught out, so please don’t hesitate to give me a call and we can provide the right HR policies for you, customised for your workplace.

That way, you’ll never find yourself in the position of having to say “umm, sorry we don’t have a policy for that”.