Family Violence Leave - Four months in
It’s been four months since the employment legislation change requiring employers to provide up to 10 days of paid Family Violence Leave (previously known as Domestic Violence Leave) to employees suffering from the effects of family violence.
When this leave first came out, there were many comments about how it would impact small businesses. I heard comments like, “If all employees take it, it will break my business, I won’t be able to deliver”; “Seven weeks paid leave will financially cripple us”; “Discrimination is really going to rear its ugly head - everyone will just hire middle-aged white males.”
As an HR consultant working with many businesses in various locations and industries, with diverse staff demographics, I want to share my personal experience of this new leave (and do the opposite of an independent HR person – and offer an opinion!)
I expected concerns regarding operations and finance (and had my own worries on how the legislation would impact my clients, many of whom have very lean people resources and finances).
However, in the last four months we have come across a whopping ONE application for this leave. So, the concerns about business being broken or financially crippled can safely be put to bed. The provision of Family Violence Leave shouldn’t have much impact on business operations and as such, doesn’t have much of a financial impact.
I started to consider the ‘theory’ that this leave would have a detrimental financial and operational impact. If we think about this realistically, we don’t plan for Bereavement Leave. Neither the business nor the employee can plan for it. There isn’t a limit on Bereavement Leave either - for immediate family members, it’s up to three days per occasion. I had an employee whose entire family died in an accident (mum, dad, brother and grandmother). Bereavement Leave entitlement applied for each of those immediate family members.
So, what happened? The business dealt with it! It paid the leave (plus more – it was a fabulous company). Why? Because it was AWFUL and the poor employee had a horrible time, with a rougher time ahead. An incident of domestic violence may not always be as extreme, but the impact is the same: it’s AWFUL and the poor person has faced a horrible time, with an even rougher time ahead.
Ninety-nine percent of businesses would bend over backwards if an employee shared a heartbreaking domestic violence story. They would provide time off, flexible arrangements, and any support they reasonably could. Even before the legislation required them to do so. (Oh - FYI to the remaining one percent– I never want to work with you!)
The grumblings only happened when Family Violence Leave was legislated. It’s human nature to be resentful when we feel we’re being forced into something.
I think it’s about time we all accepted, being good employers, we would support our employees anyway, with or without the legislation.
The impact of potential discrimination – well, I’m still on the fence about that.
If I’m honest, the comment, “Guess everyone will just hire middle-aged white males” floored me a little. I certainly hadn’t thought that way. But the more I did, I realised it might come true and it made me feel a little sick.
I realised that assumptions would be made about the ‘type’ of person who may be a victim of domestic violence: Female, from a low socio-economic background, in a low paying job, possibly of Māori or Pasefika ethnicity.
What I will say is the ONE application we had was indeed a female, but she came from a middle-class, European background and wasn’t in a low-paying job - she was actually a member of the management team.
There is definitely significant evidence that certain demographics feature more in victim statistics when it comes to acts of family violence. Studies show Māori are twice as likely to be subject to family violence and females represented 89% of protection order applications in 2015.
These statistics don’t mean other groups aren’t represented. The NZ Family Violence Clearinghouse has screeds of studies, statistics, reports and papers on family violence towards men, women, children, various ethnicities, the LGBTQ community; covering all social and economic characteristics. (Believe me – that is a very dark hole of the internet to start going down if you do feel inclined to read some of the reports.)
It seems domestic violence is prevalent everywhere and doesn’t discriminate or stereotype, so I hope that as employers we don’t either.
Back to the one application we’ve received for family violence leave. This employee was an amazing, talented, super-efficient, energetic, enthusiastic and intelligent woman who endured an awful situation and come out the other side. She hadn’t originally applied for Family Violence Leave, unaware of her eligibility until advised by her CEO.
While she had plenty of other accumulated leave, this specific leave was another weight off her shoulders. She could worry about impending court cases and counselling.
And you know what? Her annual leave wasn’t another thing her partner could take from her.
Legislated or not, I am proud of her employers for providing the small amount of support they could and helping to empower her in this way.
While the Family Violence Leave may still be a worrisome burden for SMEs, there is a good reason for it. We have a serious problem: Of the 65 homicides in New Zealand in 2015, 42% were by a family member.
The police investigated over 118,000 incidents of family violence in 2016. To put the number in perspective, that’s one incident every five minutes or an incident for every person in Dunedin. The police also estimated that three-quarters of family violence matters go unreported.
It’s a shocking statistic. As employers we may not be able do much to improve this statistic, but we can look after our own.
Statistics from NZ Family Violence Clearing House:
What are YOUR thoughts on the Family Violence Leave?