Domestic violence leave no problem, employers say

National says victims of domestic violence who need time off work should take it out of their existing holiday and sick leave allowances.

From Monday, employees will be eligible for up to 10 days' leave a year if they're suffering violence at home, or have to care for a child suffering violence, on top of existing leave entitlements.

"We've got horrific, just heartbreaking rates of family violence in this country, and we can do something about that," Green MP Jan Logie, who introduced the Victims' Protection Bill last year, told Newshub.

The Bill was passed in the House in July last year, with support from Labour, the Greens and NZ First. ACT and National voted against it.

With a few exceptions, full-time employees are also presently entitled to a minimum 20 days' annual leave and five days' sick leave. A supplementary order paper National filed to stop the extra 10 days being added failed. It would have allowed victims and carers to take leave, but required them to use annual or sick leave, because the new entitlement would "be difficult for tens of thousands of small businesses to navigate".

"Sick leave, et cetera, you have 20 days total, right? What we saw with this was stinging the small employer by adding another 10 days," National leader Simon Bridges told The AM Show on Monday. "I think it's right that actually if you've got a domestic violence issue you do get leave, but it should be within the current 20 days."

He wouldn't commit to changing the law should National win the next election, and said his party's opposition to it shouldn't be confused "for any kind of misunderstanding of how important domestic violence [is]".

But Holly Carrington of domestic violence charity Shine says employers who already offer staff domestic violence leave haven't had any trouble.

"There's very low uptake of this leave, but certainly what we know in our work with victims is just having this leave when it's needed can be a lifeline," she told The AM Show. "When the leave is taken, it's usually taken in very small increments - a day or two, or some number of hours."

Holly Carrington.
Holly Carrington. Photo credit: The AM Show

Companies with domestic violence leave include Westpac, Stuff, Ministry of Justice, Warehouse and Countdown.

"I think time will show there's going to be very low uptake of the leave, and so I don't think employers have a major concern on their hands. From the businesses I've talked to that provide this leave, no instances where they've suspected people are not being upfront about why they're taking the leave."

Carrington says taking the full two weeks' leave is "very rare", as for some victims, work is the safest place they can be.

"Why would they want to take leave? For a lot of them, their job is their lifeline, so they don't want to do anything that's going to jeopardise that."

Carrington says while physical violence is usually man-on-woman, psychological abuse goes both ways.

"We've never seen domestic violence where it's only physical. There is always a psychological component - sometimes it's psychological without being physical. But it's really about one person controlling another person. It's far more common than most people would believe it to be. It can happen to men. We know that the rates are probably as high in the rainbow community."

And employers should have staff who know how to handle employees suffering at home.

"There are so many misconceptions about this issue that you cannot use 'common sense' to respond appropriately - people really need that specialist training."

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