Domestic violence (“DV”) has proven to be a significant issue in New Zealand. For example in 2016, the New Zealand (“NZ”) Police investigated 118,910 incidents of family violence that equates to approximately one DV incident every five minutes. The most recent parliamentary debate on the issue has resulted in The Domestic Violence – Victims’ Protection Bill (“Bill”), originally proposed by the Green Party, which had its first reading in March 2017. This Bill aims to offer greater protection to victims of DV (“Victim/s”) in an employment context. The Bill aims to reduce:
The stigma attached to being a Victim;
The abuse of Victims in the workplace; and
To require employers to adhere to more understanding practices.
The Bill proposes to assist Victims by introducing a definition of, “a victim of domestic violence” under section 5 of the Bill and amending several different pieces of employment legislation to better cater to the needs of Victims.
The Bill defines a Victim as a person who suffers DV who can produce a “domestic violence document” (“DVD”) because they have suffered DV or provide care to an individual in their immediate family who suffers DV. A DVD is a collection of documents that provide evidence that a person falls within the definition of a Victim. Examples of these documents are a police report or criminal proceedings.
The proposed changes to employment legislation are the introduction of DV leave, flexible working for Victims, Health and Safety Requirements and new prohibited grounds of discrimination. These are described below.
DV Leave: The Bill proposes to amend the Holiday Act 2003 by introducing ten days within a 12 month period paid “domestic violence leave” for Victims. To be eligible, the person must supply their employer with their DVD. The employer will be expected to approve the leave “as soon as practicable”.
Flexible Working for Victims: The Bill proposes to amend the Employment Relations Act 2000 so that Victims can request flexible working arrangements such as working from a different location or unusual hours. Employees who make this request will need to have been employed by the same employer for at least six months and have not made a flexible working request for at least 12 months.
Health and Safety Requirements: The Bill proposes to amend the definition of “hazard” to include situations arising from DV. This would require persons conducting a business or undertaking (PCBU’s) to have a policy for dealing with hazards that arise in the workplace due to DV. A PCBU will also have to take reasonable and practicable steps to provide health and safety representatives with training to support workers who are Victims.
Prohibited Grounds of Discrimination: The Bill proposes introducing being a Victim as a prohibited ground of discrimination under the Human Rights Act 1993 and the Employment Relations Act 2000.
The current government states that this Bill is seeking to remedy something that has already been addressed by the existing provisions within current Employment and Health and Safety legislation. Immigration Minister Mr Woodhouse also stated there was no need for the initiative as many employers go above the minimum employment standards; for example, Countdown already offers ten days DV leave.
The discussion above suggests that the current government is content to leave more comprehensive DV initiatives to businesses. They have voiced the opinion that they believe the extra leave will burden small businesses and therefore do not support the Bill in its current form. However, leaving the instigation of DV initiatives to businesses may result in Victims only receiving the limited support offered by current legislation.
Currently, it is estimated that DV is costing $368 million or more a year particularly through lost productivity, businesses losing staff, and retraining. The Human Rights Commission has launched a campaign to encourage businesses to introduce more comprehensive family violence policies in their workplaces. Equal Employment Opportunities Commissioner Dr Jackie Blue states "By implementing a family violence policy, the cost savings to the business will be truly significant but crucially, for victims, it can be life-changing and life-saving."
Where many New Zealand businesses are going beyond the current legislation to provide support to Victims, some are not. This Bill, if passed into law will recognise DV as a workplace hazard and accordingly, require New Zealand businesses to implement new workplace policies. So, with the report from Parliament due on 8 September 2017, this is one space to watch.