Should you refuse Family and Domestic Violence Leave to your non-Award employees?

Looking out for each other in the workplace has taken on new meaning with the Fair Work decision to include Family and Domestic Violence Leave as a leave category. Award employees are generally covered by this new leave, with some exceptions. Modern Awards were updated to include a non-cumulative 5 days of unpaid leave per annum, as of 1st August, 2018. This leave is now available to your Award employees who are experiencing family and domestic violence.

Businesses can look at this new leave as yet another compliance related activity and meet the minimum legal requirements, or they can consider how to leverage the changes to improve well-being across the organisation. This type of legislative change has a sad edge to it – it means that we have come to a place where we publicly acknowledge that domestic violence is a societal issue and it is affecting people that we work with. As an employer, you must comply with the legislation, but what happens if a non-Award employee is experiencing domestic violence? Do you say no to unpaid leave, just because you “don’t have to” provide it? These questions need answering, as they feed into organisational culture. What kind of culture do you want in your organisation?

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It is appropriate to run a cost benefit analysis when making decisions on additional employee entitlement, but while allowing unpaid leave to all of your employees might mean some inconvenience to your work schedule, what are the implications of refusing it? Well-being in an organisation may appear intangible at times, but it does have a real productivity cost associated to it. Employees who are happy in their workplace are likely to experience greater satisfaction and be more productive than employees who are not happy at work. One of the most divisive things an employer can do, is to treat employees differently. Research into employee motivation proves that employees will often use their own equality paradigm to compare their status with others that they work with. If they believe that others are getting something more than they are for a comparison of similar output, motivation can drop (and then productivity can follow). Not only that, but whilst in any state of personal duress, attending work is difficult enough. Employers need to be empathetic and practical in their approach to this sensitive issue.

While it might seem an unusual twist to the Family and Domestic Violence Leave conversation, employers need to consider not just how they will comply with the legislation, but how they will implement their own fair program that encourages all employees to speak up for support regarding domestic and family violence issues. If you are a business employing a number of people, consider an Employee Assistance Program. If you can’t afford to do this, consider making your own support program available using local reputable counsellors on a needs basis. Your employees will be grateful that you support them. What other practical ways can you support employees in this difficult situation at your workplace? No longer can we separate “work” from “life”, despite our best intentions. Personal life will impact on the work space, but you as the employer can make it not just bearable, even supportive, with the right approach and attitude towards employee wellbeing.

You can read more about this leave and who is entitled to it at the Fair Work Ombudsman’s site here.


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