Domestic Violence Leave – Work Life Balance Bill 2022
24th February 2023
Women’s Aid, a leading national organisation working to prevent and address the impact of domestic violence and abuse since 1974 warns that plans to model a new provision for statutory Domestic Violence Leave on the Sick Leave Act 2022 may inadvertently increase the risk to victims of domestic abuse, and prevent survivors from benefiting as intended from this potentially lifesaving support.
The organisation strongly welcomed the introduction by Minister Roderick O’Gorman, DCEDIY, of a statutory Domestic Violence Leave provision as part of the Work Life Balance Bill 2022. If done correctly, the organisation believes it will provide a vital tool for those subjected to abuse to access safety and maintain economic independence.
However, Women’s Aid became concerned when it became apparent that the rate of pay for Domestic Violence leave in the law might not be based on international best practice, which is an employee’s normal daily rate of pay, but instead a partial payment similar to sick pay. It appears that the legislation recommends that the daily payment from the employer is 70% of the daily salary rate, capped at €110 per day and that a minimum rate entitlement should also be set.
There is just one week before this legislation will likely go through its final stage in the Seanad, after which no further changes can be made.
Women’s Aid is therefore calling on legislators to remove this limitation and ensure that this modest allocation of a maximum five days of leave over a twelve-month period is paid at an employee’s normal daily rate to ensure that valued workers are given the best opportunity to access safety, advice and support at possibly the worst moment in their working lives.
Sarah Benson, CEO of Women’s Aid, says: “While we welcome the introduction by the Government of Domestic Violence Leave as part of the Work Life Balance Bill 2022 it is important that this new leave is made as safe and supportive as possible.
Domestic Violence Leave is simply not the same as sick leave, and we believe that Domestic Violence leave must be paid in full to avoid financial hardship or have any impact on victims’ safety and privacy.
This is in line with the international best practice of paying Domestic Violence leave in full, as is the case in New Zealand, Italy and Australia.”
Sarah adds: “Women’s Aid had originally advocated that Domestic Violence leave would stand at ten days, which is what most employers we engage with offer already and our National Universities are implementing, however; the Bill will currently allow for only a maximum of five days leave over a twelve-month period. It really is important that those days can be taken safely at a victim/survivor’s normal daily rate of pay and that this provision is not further reduced in a way that could have a range of chilling effects that might prevent those most in need from availing of the support.”
The organisation says that women experiencing domestic abuse and coercive control are often subjected to economic abuse, may not have access to savings or family assets, and must survive on very tight budgets. Losing 30% of their daily salary if taking the leave may be very difficult for them, creating real hardships for women and children, possibly alerting abusive partners to their actions and actually reducing their options for taking any Domestic Violence leave.
Sarah explains:“Often, in relationships where domestic abuse is being perpetrated, a woman’s income can be intensely controlled. When income is monitored and/or appropriated by an abuser, a change in normal salary may alert the abuser that she has not attended work as usual or could prompt a confrontation where she must explain what has happened to cause the drop in pay. This could potentially jeopardise safety, including signalling to an abuser that a woman may be taking steps to try and leave, which can be the most high-risk period with an abusive relationship.”
Sarah outlines:“In many cases, Domestic Violence leave may be taken by women who are in the process of questioning the relationship or leaving an abuser. Separation is not only a very dangerous time, it is also a time when women face additional and significant expenses ranging from: legal expenses, costs of alternative accommodation for themselves and their children; managing a household on a single income. It is a period where every available euro really counts. This provision of Domestic Violence leave provides a safe means to access crucial services that can support them on their difficult journey when an abuser thinks they are at work, but any decrease in income would be very problematic and may reduce uptake.
There is already a commitment that this legislation will be reviewed after just two years which is a short time for this to be tested, starting with the international best practice and knowledge drawn from other countries who have already tried and tested Domestic Violence leave and whereby; in New Zealand and Australia they have actually significantly increased benefits available in law – such is the limited negative impact on employers compared to the benefits to those abused.”
She concludes: “This legislation is a great step for Ireland and must be drafted prioritising the impact of each aspect on the victims and survivors who are the Government’s intended beneficiaries. It will be a pivotal tool to offer support, to raise awareness in every workplace and further reduce the stigma that persists towards those subjected to domestic abuse and redirect it towards zero tolerance for the cause: those who perpetrate harm.
The good news is, in addition to international learning, through Women’s Aid’s, own direct work with companies large and small we have learnt that providing Domestic Violence leave at a normal rate of pay is also genuinely business smart and offers a genuine ‘win-win’ for employers and employees alike. It is already recognised as a proportionately small investment in a policy and practice that contributes enormously to staff well-being and satisfaction.
Consider the difference between a scenario where a longstanding valued employee (whom the company may have invested time and resources to train and induct into their role) quits because of the impacts of coercive and controlling abuse on them, compared to the benefits of a policy where employees are supported for a limited period to get through a desperately challenging time to access help and also remain employed as a critical contributor to the business. This minor amendment on pay can make all the difference between a half-measure and a vital measure”.
Support for anyone affected: Women’s Aid 24hr National Freephone Helpline 1800 341 900, open seven days a week.
Instant Message Support Service here>>, open mornings and evenings, seven days a week.
National Male Advice Line 1800 816 588 or visit here>>