Spotlight on domestic violence

By Steve Hart

Bill asks employers to do more for staff under stress at home.

Domestic violence can affect performace at work.
Domestic violence can affect performace at work.

Employers may be asked to do more for staff who are victims of domestic violence, if the Domestic Violence-Victims' Protection Bill is passed by Parliament.

Green Party MP Jan Logie wants employers to give staff facing trouble at home an extra 10 days' paid leave, for employers to have easier access to current systems that help support victims, and to have domestic violence treated as a health and safety at work issue.

Logie says domestic violence is a "massive issue" and that one in five women will at some point find themselves in a violent relationship, with a "significant number of those people" being employed.

Her bill, which might not be picked for debate in the House unless it gets cross-party support, says domestic violence does not easily fit the definitions of workplace violence, such as bullying or violent customers.

"This bill addresses this current gap in legislation," says Logie. "Domestic violence can cause lost productivity at work due to significant levels of stress, some victims are prevented from getting to work by their abuser, and they can be sent harassing emails at work.

"There have also been cases of work colleagues of victims being assaulted [by the victim's partner]."

Logie says that all too often staff with trouble at home are sacked as their performance at work drops as a direct result of being in an abusive relationship.

"What the bill does is to recognise that in the workplace there is a chance to make a difference," the MP says.

"And by recognising it as a health and safety issue it puts the mechanisms in place for training in the workplace to help people. So employers, rather than feeling they have no choice but to sack a woman, can get the external assistance and policies in place to make it safe for everyone as well as the [abused] worker."

Logie says if her bill is made law, it will help companies -- particularly the smaller ones -- by giving them a system to follow.

"If an employer doesn't know what to do, and we shouldn't expect them to know what to do, this creates a system that takes it off their plate and provides them with policies on how to deal with it," says Logie.

"I really think all this should be covered by the ACC, when we look at this as a health and safety issue. There are significant costs to the country and business when it comes to domestic violence."

Employers do have access to staff working on the It's Not Okay campaign, which has developed a business toolkit for employers that want to help their staff facing domestic violence issues.

"The trouble is there are no systems to promote it," says Logie. "No one knows about it.

"I can think of two cases where women have been fired because of their partner turning up at work and hassling them. Then their productivity drops because their mind is not on the job. But if systems are put in place for this situation, then people's productivity and company loyalty skyrockets."

Sheryl Cadman, women's co-convener at the Council of Trade Unions, says domestic violence has a "huge impact" in the workplace, particularly when it comes to productivity and staff turnover.

She says the extra 10 days of paid leave a year would give people a chance for some extra time out.

"If you have to leave your job due to domestic violence then that makes life that much more difficult," says Cadman. "One reason women stay in an abusive relationship is because of the finances.

"People in these situations can use up their holiday and sick leave to deal with issues such as this. Even those without these problems can use up their holiday and sick leave -- particularly when there are young children at home. The proposed law change will also enable staff to request more flexible working hours, to perhaps change the location of where they work, or the hours."

Cadman agrees there is already a provision for flexible working in employment legislation, but says it is only available by mutual agreement with the employer.

"You can request a flexible working arrangement but domestic violence is not covered [as a reason for it]," she says.

"Domestic violence is being seen more as a workplace issue in Australia where unions are introducing domestic violence clauses as part of their collective bargaining. "

• Steve Hart is a freelance

reporter at www.SteveHart.co.nz

- NZ Herald

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