Companies remain committed to providing paid domestic violence leave

Original Article: Anna Patty, The Sydney Morning Herald | March 27, 2018

Big banks and corporations remain committed to providing paid domestic violence leave despite the Fair Work Commission's rejection of a union claim for the entitlement to be introduced into awards.

The commission's decision to grant five days of unpaid domestic violence leave has raised concerns that it may discourage some employers from providing paid leave.

Workplace Minister Craig Laundy said the federal government would introduce legislation to ensure workers covered by the Fair Work Act will have access to five days' unpaid family and domestic violence leave per year.

Karen Willis, executive officer at Rape and Domestic Violence Services Australia said the commission's decision to grant five days of unpaid leave was a "poor decision".

"What we need is 10 days of paid leave," she said.

While many employers have been willing to help victims of domestic violence, she said there were some who may view the Fair Work Commission decision as a disincentive to providing paid leave.

"There are some great employers who have been helpful. But employers who are happy to collude with a society that accepts violence against women will be more than happy to see this as an escape route. They will be a minority, but they will be out there."

PwC head of diversity and inclusion Julie McKay said the company remained firmly committed to its policy of providing ten days of paid domestic violence leave.

"That commitment is unwavering and we will continue to advocate to other organisations that that is best practice," she said.

"Domestic violence is a workplace issue and it is having an impact on our people. It is not something that can be ignored.

"Any cost with the provision of paid leave ... is a tiny investment in the context of what is a far bigger economic cost to our society."

National Australia Bank provides an uncapped amount of paid leave to employees who are domestic violence victims, depending on individual circumstances, in consultation with their managers.

Catherine Delaney, head of workplace relations at NAB said the Fair Work Commission's decision would not change the bank's commitment to providing paid leave to employees who were victims of domestic violence.

"The amount of leave we provide is uncapped and based on each individual's situation," she said.

"NAB was the first Australian bank to launch a domestic and family violence support policy for our people in 2013, and it is part of our enterprise agreement."

A spokesman for ANZ said it would continue to provide uncapped paid special leave on a case-by-case basis.

"We will continue providing these arrangements and keep looking for ways to enhance the support we provide our people when they are confronted with domestic violence situations," he said.

Ernst and Young Oceania talent leader McGregor Dixon said the commission's decision "would not alter our policy” of providing 10 days of paid domestic violence leave.

Deloitte chief human resources manager Sam Sheppard said its support for employees affected by domestic violence included paid leave, flexible working arrangements, support to help them arrive at and leave work safely, and a free and confidential counselling service.

"We are regularly reviewing how we continue to provide best in class support on this issue," he said.

In 2015, the Commonwealth Bank  increased leave provisions to ten days for employees experiencing domestic violence and five days for those caring for a family member or someone in their household experiencing domestic violence. A spokeswoman for the bank said it wanted to "be part of a movement to end domestic and family violence in a generation".

KPMG also introduced a domestic violence policy in 2015 which includes 10 days of additional paid leave per year to employees who are victims to access counselling, legal advice and other support.

ACTU secretary Sally McManus said the five days of unpaid leave was "a very small step in the right direction".

“The national standards are moving well behind the pace being set by employers on this issue," Ms McManus said.

“No worker should have to choose between keeping their job and keeping their family safe. We need ten days paid leave."

Australian Industry Group chief executive, Innes Willox said employers "typically take a compassionate approach when employees who experience domestic violence need to take some leave".

Mr Willox said the commission had taken a "measured approach" in its decision to create an award entitlement of up to five days of unpaid domestic violence leave each year.

"While different employers have different capacities to provide assistance to employees experiencing domestic violence, most employers are not likely to experience problems with what the commission has decided," he said.

Marian Baird, professor of gender and employment relations at the University of Sydney, said the commission decision was significant for acknowledging the link between employment and economic security for those affected by family and domestic violence, the majority of whom are women.

"While paid leave would have been ideal, awarding unpaid leave is in keeping with the policy trajectory of leave provisions for women provided through Australia’s industrial relations system," she said. "It is also significant and welcome that the provision will be extended to federal public servants."