We have recently entered year four since the government introduced family and domestic violence leave for all employees. Unquestionably it was a move in the right direction.
The statistics are alarming: at least one woman is killed each week due to family and domestic violence. Intimate partner violence causes more illness, disability, and death than any other risk factor for women aged 25-44.
The recognition of family and domestic violence in employment laws is critical, yet ours are lacking in both content and messaging.
The Fair Work Act 2009 gives employees five days of unpaid family and domestic violence leave per year. It is better than nothing, but it is the bare minimum, and we deserve better than the bare minimum.
Treating the leave as unpaid is particularly troubling. It takes the serious issue of family and domestic violence and gives it less importance than holidays or common illness, which are both afforded the recognition of paid leave. Like personal leave, which is used when ill or dealing with carer’s responsibilities, the use of family and domestic violence is by necessity, not choice.
The gap left by our policy makers must be filled by employers — every employer should have a family and domestic violence policy.
While many employers take the view that they would undoubtedly support an employee who is experiencing family and domestic violence, including through paid leave, without a written policy on the matter, it should not be left to employees who are in a difficult situation to take the initiative.
Employers must start the conversation by sending a clear message to all employees that it is there to support them when it comes to family and domestic violence, including through paid leave.
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An employee who is experiencing family and domestic violence should not have to make a decision regarding whether to prioritise financial security over their own security or the security of loved ones.