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Employment Law Update – March 2017

Home Insights Employment Law Update – March 2017

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Contributed by: Kylie Dunn and Emma Peterson

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Published on: March 10, 2017


Proposed new employment legislation: The Domestic Violence – Victims’ Protection Bill

The Domestic Violence – Victims’ Protection Bill was unanimously passed at its first reading earlier this week. It has now been referred to the Select Committee. This Bill is not yet law, and any implementation (whether in its current form or an amended form) is likely to be some months away.

If voted into law, this Bill will amend the Domestic Violence Act 1995, the Employment Relations Act 2000, the Health and Safety at Work Act 2015, the Holidays Act 2003, and the Human Rights Act 1993 with a view to establishing a workplace-based support system for victims of domestic violence. Critically, a “victim of domestic violence” is defined to include not only a person who has suffered domestic violence, but also someone who provides care or support to such an individual. 

The key proposed changes to the Bill for employers are as follows:

Holidays Act 2003

  • The introduction of domestic violence leave:
    • Up to 10 days’ leave for a “victim of domestic violence”, to be taken within a year.
    • In order to be eligible for this leave, the employee must provide a “domestic violence document”, which includes a police report or court order relating to domestic violence.  
    • Domestic violence leave would be paid on the same basis as sick and bereavement leave.

Employment Relations Act 2000

  • Employees who are victims of domestic violence would be able to request a variation to their working arrangements (including as to hours, days, place, duties).
    • The employee must have worked for the employer for at least six months and at least 12 months must have passed since any previous request.
    • An employer would be required to respond to the request as soon as possible but no later than three months from receipt.
    • A request could only be refused if:
      • the employee was bound by a collective agreement and a variation would be inconsistent with that agreement; or
      • the request could not be accommodated on certain grounds (including the inability to reorganise work among existing staff or recruit additional staff, the potential for a detrimental impact on quality, performance or ability to meet customer demands, or the burden of additional costs). 
    • If an employer failed to comply, it could be liable for a penalty of up to $2,000.
  • Being a victim of domestic violence would be an additional prohibited ground of discrimination (this would also be amended in the Human Rights Act 1993).

Health and Safety at Work Act 2015

  • The definition of “hazard” would be amended to include “a situation in which a person’s behaviour stems from being a victim of domestic violence or from being the person who inflicted the domestic violence”.
  • Employers would be required to have a policy to handle situations in which a worker’s behaviour stems from domestic violence and is an actual or potential cause of harm in the workplace.
  • Employers would be required to take all practicable steps to ensure that health and safety representatives receive training in the support of workers who are victims of domestic violence.

The Bill is a mix of practical, helpful steps employers can take to assist employees who are victims of domestic violence situations, and proactive obligations to address domestic violence to the extent it affects the workplace (specifically the proposed amendment to the definition of a hazard under the Health and Safety at Work Act). We anticipate that the amendments to the Health and Safety at Work Act may be the subject of some scrutiny at the Select Committee stage.

A copy of the Bill can be obtained here. We will keep you updated on its progress through Parliament.

This publication is intended only to provide a summary of the subject covered. It does not purport to be comprehensive or to provide legal advice. No person should act in reliance on any statement contained in this publication without first obtaining specific professional advice. If you require any advice or further information on the subject matter of this newsletter, please contact the partner/solicitor in the firm who normally advises you, or alternatively contact one of the partners listed below.

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