On 25 July 2018, Green Party MP Jan Logie’s Domestic Violence – Victims’ Protection Bill passed its final reading in Parliament. It will come into force on 1 April 2019. BuckettLaw supports the introduction of statutory protections to look after and empower workers affected by domestic violence. So that employers can provide timely support to their employees and comply with the new laws, it is important that businesses understand their rights and obligations under this Bill. We detail some the major law changes from this Bill below
The Bill sets up a tool which functions similar to the existing approach where employees can make flexible working requests, which the employer is required to consider and can only reject if the request cannot be accommodated by the business. A similar section set up specifically for employees affected by domestic violence permits employees to request a change to their working arrangements (such as where they work, what their duties are, what contact details they need to provide to their employer, or a change to any other term of employment). Some of the rules around this new tool are as follows:
– There are precise rules about what an employee needs to include in their written request. They must outline a time frame for the request to cover and must explain the reasons why the change to working conditions will help address any domestic violence issues.
– The employer must respond to a request within 10 working days (whereas the standard flexible working request procedure allows the employer to take a month to consider).
– The employer can only reject if proof of domestic violence has been sought but not provided or if the request cannot be accommodated by the business (one of eight non-accommodation grounds must be satisfied).
– If the employer is going to require proof of domestic violence, it needs to request this within three days of receiving the request.
– When rejecting a request, the employer must both state and explain its reasons for doing so.
– When a flexible working request is made on the grounds that the employee is affected by domestic violence, the employer is also required to provide the employee with information about appropriate specialist domestic violence support services. This obligation applies regardless of what the employer decides to do about the request and must be discharged before a decision is made.
Employers are liable and at risk of penalties from either a Labour Inspector or the Employment Relations Authority if they fail to comply with the above obligations.
Changes to the Employment Relations Act 2000 also introduce a specific personal grievance claim open to employees who have been affected by domestic violence. If an employee is disadvantaged in any way by their employer because the employer suspects, assumes, or believes that the employee has been affected by domestic violence, the employee has a personal grievance claim against their employer. While this could be captured by the existing legislative provisions, the establishment of an explicit category of personal grievance claims sends a strong signal to employers that victims should not be subject to stigmatisation or other detrimental treatment simply because of their history as a victim.