Paid Domestic Violence Leave Should be a Statutory Entitlement
9th October 2022
Women’s Aid, a leading frontline domestic violence organisation, is very disappointed to read media reports recently relating to IBEC’s apparent position on the proposal to implement paid Domestic Violence leave in Ireland. According to the organisation, the submission by IBEC appears ‘mean spirited, distrustful and defensive’.
Domestic violence and abuse has traditionally been considered a private family matter but businesses and organisations are increasingly becoming aware that it is an issue, which directly affects employees’ participation at work and the workplace itself.
High prevalence of the issue means the cost of domestic abuse to companies can be considerable.
Recent research showed that more than 1 in 3 (37%) working people surveyed across multiple industries and at varying levels of seniority have experienced domestic abuse.
Almost all (94%) employees who are subjected to abuse report an impact on their work performance. (Vodafone Foundation, 2021).
Sarah Benson, CEO of Women’s Aid says: “Women’s Aid has long advocated for the introduction of paid Domestic Violence Leave in Ireland as a vital support for survivors. Paid Domestic Violence Leave should be a statutory entitlement available to all employees and should work in a similar way to Statutory Sick leave or Force Majeure. Women’s Aid believes that paid Domestic Violence Leave, as part of a comprehensive package of workplace measures, can play an important role is supporting abused women to remain in employment and therefore expanding their agency, safety and choices.”
Ms Benson adds: “Women living with or escaping from domestic abuse may have a number of urgent and important matters to attend to related to the abuse they experience. These include: attending and preparing for a number of criminal and civil legal proceedings, counselling for themselves or their children, looking for a new home, relocating, changing children’s school, visiting specialist domestic violence services. It may not be possible to attend to these matters outside of working hours because the services are not available or because the woman may need to hide her activities from the abuser. Women do not have a choice of time for appointments with specialist support organisations, solicitors or for court proceedings. In order to attend to these matters many survivors currently have to take Annual Leave or other forms of leave. This is grossly unfair.”
Women’s Aid states that Domestic Violence Leave is a clear and cost effective way for employers to show support staff. It also has a cost benefit that accrues not just to the employee impacted but the employer. Companies that are taking this initiative are recognised as good employers and experience a positive impact on staff productivity and retention.
Ms Benson explains: “In Ireland, there are considerable number of employers are proactively taking steps to implement Domestic Violence policies and paid leave (usually 10 days and sometimes more). Many companies and organisations are collaborating with Women’s Aid on this to support their policy development, review and implementation. Through this work, we know that staff at all levels of organisations welcome and value Domestic Violence Leave and other progressive measures to support victims and survivors of abuse. Importantly, there is no evidence misuse. Other countries have taken this step, including Australia and New Zealand. In fact, New Zealand just recently increasing the statutory leave to 20 days after a successful roll out of a 10-day provision.”
Ms Benson states: “IBEC signposts alternative type of leave that should be used and indicates that employers should be legally allowed to seek ‘proof’ from any employee wishing to take Domestic Violence Leave. However, this is highly inappropriate. Firstly, the leave they suggest is not appropriate: compassionate leave usually for bereavements and force majeure for family emergencies and highly restricted. Paradoxically though they also choose to refer to two forms of leave for which employers do not traditionally, require any proofs. They cite parental leave but not all Victims/survivors of domestic violence are parents and they do not need leave for childcare/child contact purposes.”
According to Women’s Aid, requesting ‘proofs’ in this very sensitive and often dangerous circumstances will only make it harder and may put many off, and convey a message of mistrust rather than empathy and understanding.
Such a doubtful attitude towards victims and survivors towards misses as a great opportunity to support victims/survivors to remain in employment, to enhance inclusive workplace policies and improve the workplace for all.
Ms Benson concludes:
“The outdated thinking that workers would seek to misuse this provision ignores the enduring stigma and often victim-blaming attitudes that sadly persist towards those suffering both domestic abuse and sexual violence in our society.
To suggest that a person would invoke this experience illegitimately is to ignore how incredibly hard it is to share such a traumatic experience with anyone, let alone an employer. Additionally, the ‘case-by-case’ approach suggested by IBEC is not appropriate. There needs to be a policy in place in conjunction with any leave entitlement that assures staff as to what they should expect, including their guarantee of confidentiality. This is all the more important as there may be sensitive whereby a woman being subjected to abuse may also find her work performance suffer and be concerned about this and her employers perspective on this. Some women will leave work rather than speak up, and thus lose their income, which only serves the intention of their abuser to control them further.”
Domestic violence including coercive control is an insidious, often misunderstood or minimised form of violence against women. It affects one in four women in Ireland.
Financial independence from the perpetrator is essential for women experiencing domestic abuse and employment is a key element of financial independence. Women’s Aid believes that employers are uniquely placed to support those experiencing abuse. Paid leave is only one element of a number of supports that should be available to employees subjected to domestic violence. All employers should ensure that they have a clear and accessible domestic violence policy to support affected staff, encourage, and facilitate application for paid leave, if required. There are other ways employers can support staff who are experiencing domestic abuse. These including short-term, flexible working hours and the possibility of changing hours and shift patterns; remote working or change of location or duties where possible; change of employees work contact details such as email or phone number; safety planning to increase safety in the work place. It could also include financial support (e.g. pay advance to cover relocation); referrals to specialist organisations and access to designated staff trained in domestic violence within the workplace.