Paid Domestic and Family Violence Leave: beyond the legislation

Thursday 16 February 2023

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Everybody should feel supported to thrive at work, especially when things are unsafe at home.

You may have seen it on the news or heard about it at work: the Australian Government has introduced 10 days paid domestic and family violence leave into the National Employment Standards. 

What is paid domestic and family violence leave?

In short, paid domestic and family violence leave provides employees with paid time away from work so they can deal with the impacts of family violence. 

The leave is legislated and mandatory – meaning all employers have to offer it to their staff by the allocated deadline. For businesses with over 15 employees, this legislation came into effect on 1 February. For small businesses, the deadline to implement domestic and family violence leave is 1 August. 

The leave is referred to as ‘universal’ – meaning it is available to all employees, including casuals. It will also be available upfront – instead of accruing leave over time, an employee can access all 10 days of leave as soon as they need it, with the leave ‘resetting’ each year on an employee’s start date anniversary. 

The introduction of these leave entitlements shows how much Australians recognise the impact family violence has on the community, and the key role workplaces have in being part of the solution. 

Family violence is a workplace issue

We know that family violence is a prevalent and complex social issue, one that has devastating and long-lasting impacts on all parts of people’s lives. 

It also has a significant impact on the economy, costing Australia an estimated $1.9 billion per year. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, between 55% and 70% of women who have experienced or are currently experiencing violence participate in the workforce. That’s around one in six female workers. It’s safe to say most – if not all – workplaces will employee someone who is impacted by family violence. 

Given these figures and how much time we spend at work (most women employed in Australia work over 20 hours per week), there’s clearly a crucial role for employers in preventing and responding to family violence. 

Going beyond leave entitlements

The introduction of paid domestic and family violence leave can make a world of difference to someone experiencing abuse. It means they will be able to keep their jobs while taking the steps they need to keep themselves safe.  

To be able to take paid time off to attend an appointment with a specialist family violence service, go to court to obtain an Intervention Order, or arrange a lease and move house, means a victim survivor has a real chance at safely escaping abuse and can begin their journey to recovery.  

The introduction of this leave is an important and long overdue change – but there is a lot that workplaces will need to consider beyond just making it available to staff. 

In Monash University’s 2021 report Safe, Thriving and Secure: Family Violence Leave and Workplace Supports in Australia, access to paid domestic and family violence leave is highlighted as an important part of a broader framework of workplace responses to family violence. The report describes the significant work required across Australian workplaces to embed a culture and policy environment that is safe and respectful and supports victim survivors to thrive in their jobs. 

Employers will need to consider how leave can be requested and accessed discreetly; for example, under the legislation this form of leave cannot be displayed on a payslip. Both employers and colleagues need to be prepared to respond safely and effectively when someone in the workplace shares that they are experiencing violence. This includes knowing what specialist support is available and approaching the conversation with sensitivity, while maintaining privacy and confidentiality.   

More broadly, it’s critical employers cultivate a compassionate, trauma-informed and supportive culture within the workplace to ensure victim survivors feel safe and able to disclose abuse. This involves ongoing training for all levels of staff that supports an increased understanding of family violence, how to be an active bystander, and staff rights and responsibilities in relation to an accessible domestic and family violence leave policy. 

These skills are complex and nuanced and require time and consideration to embed properly. If you’re thinking about how to implement domestic and family violence leave in your workplace, there are lots of supports available. 

Workplaces have a real opportunity to support the big-picture change that’s needed to eliminate family and gender-based violence. Employers who develop a trauma-informed understanding of family violence, and prioritise a workplace culture of support, safety and respect will not only increase staff retention, performance and engagement, but will give victim survivors the best chance of recovering and thriving.  

For more information on how you can implement a tailored and accessible domestic and family violence leave policy in your business, check out Safe and Equal’s workplace family violence services. 

Page last updated Thursday, February 16 2023


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