Domestic violence leave NZ: what employers need to know

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New law on domestic violence in New Zealand now in force

The Government’s Domestic Violence – Victims’ Protection Act comes into force today, 1 April 2019. The Act gives new entitlements to victims of domestic violence and puts strict obligations on their employers to ensure those entitlements are met.

This update sets out some of the key changes and things which employers need to know now the Act is in force.

Domestic violence leave

This part of the new law received the most media coverage. It amends the Holidays Act 2003 to create a new type of paid leave which is treated the same as sick or bereavement leave. Key things to note:

  • An employee can take up to 10 days of paid domestic violence leave every 12 months.The entitlement kicks in after six months of employment.
  • The leave is to deal with the “effects of domestic violence”. Those effects include impacts on both the employee and/or any child they are looking after. The actual domestic violence does not have to have occurred during the course of the employment.
  • An employer can require proof that the employee (or their child) are affected by domestic violence. What will constitute proof has been left undefined and may be difficult to procure as opposed to a medical certificate for sick leave.

This leave needs to be treated as if it were sick or bereavement leave – it will be a rare occasion where it will be able to booked in advance. Employers will need to consider their ability to potentially be without staff members for up to two weeks at a time.

No discrimination/adverse treatment

Both the Employment Relations Act and the Human Rights Act have changed to prohibit any sort of discrimination or adverse treatment where an employer suspects an employee is affected by domestic violence. This effectively adds being a victim of domestic violence to the other list of prohibited grounds of discrimination in employment e.g. race, religion, age etc.

The prohibition on discrimination appears designed (in part) to stop employers from avoiding hiring staff they suspect are prone to domestic violence (to dodge these changes/further victimise them) or, worse, exiting staff who are domestic violence victims. However, unless a prospective employer actually asks “have you suffered from domestic violence” (which seems unlikely), or fires the employee immediately following a period of domestic violence leave, there may be evidential issues in proving the real reason for dismissal or not offering employment.

An employee can take up to 10 days of paid domestic violence leave every 12 months. The entitlement kicks in after six months of employment.

Flexible working arrangements

The ability for employees to request flexible working arrangements (and what employers have to do in response) have been around for some time, so they should not be new to employers.

The new “Part 6AB” of the Employment Relations Act 2000 adds a new type of request for flexibility in working arrangements for up to two months where a person is dealing with the effects of domestic violence.

Key things to know:

  • When a request is made, the employer has to consider it and respond as soon as possible, but no later than 10 working days after the request.
  • The request has to be in writing and contain certain essential information.
  • An employer can ask for proof of the effects of domestic violence, but only if they ask within three working days of the request.
    The request can only be turned down on specified grounds.

If an employer doesn’t take the prescribed steps in the statutory timeframes they could find themselves in a dispute resolution process or subject to a penalty.

How can we help?

Changes in employment law occur all the time. Our employment team keeps up to date with all current legislation and requirements so our clients don’t get caught out with obsolete documents or advice.

If you have a question about the new domestic violence requirements, or an employment matter in general, please call Simon Davies-Colley, Senior Lawyer (phone 09 470 2453) or contact your usual trusted WRMK advisor.