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The Domestic Violence – Victims' Protection Bill took another step forward in Parliament in June and has now passed its second reading.
The Victims' Protection Bill addresses issues of discrimination stemming from domestic violence in the workplace and treats domestic violence as a workplace hazard. It aims to increase legal protection for victims of domestic violence to enable them to remain in paid employment and to sustain productivity in a safe environment.
The Bill puts employers on notice that victims require additional support against the risk of discrimination based on misconceptions about their experiences or circumstances they may find themselves in. Employers must also recognise that victims can be targeted at work by their abuser due to the predictability of the victim's working hours and location.
The proposed legislation is unique as it brings a traditionally private matter into the working domain, and puts greater obligations on employers to assist their employees as a result of private affairs. It recognises the damaging, and often hidden, effects of domestic violence and the fact that these can inevitably 'spill over' into an individual's working life.
This is an omnibus Bill, amending the Domestic Violence Act 1995 (DVA), Employment Relations Act 2000 (ERA), Human Rights Act 1993 (HRA), Health and Safety at Work Act 2015 (HSWA) and Holidays Act 2003 (HA).
The Bill was introduced in March 2017 but did not move through to the Select Committee stage until May this year.
In summary, key elements of the Bill include:
- addressing the gap in legislation which results from domestic violence not easily falling into other forms of workplace harm, such as workplace bullying and violence;
- providing victims of domestic violence with an entitlement to special domestic leave under the HA of up to 10 days;
- providing victims with the right to request flexible working arrangements under the ERA in order to avoid predictability of working hours and location, and to reduce the risk of the victim or others being targeted by the abuser;
- adding domestic violence as a prohibited ground of discrimination in the ERA, which can occur from misunderstandings about victims' experiences; and
- requiring businesses to treat behaviour by the victim or instigator of domestic violence as a hazard under the HSWA. Businesses must ensure, so far as reasonable practicable, that workers are not exposed to hazards that may put their health and safety at risk.
The Bill has received support from both private and public sector groups.
Implications for employers
The obligations placed on businesses from a health and safety perspective are arguably the widest and most significant of the Bill's consequences. If the Bill is enacted, the employer must treat the effects of domestic violence on an employee's behaviour (including both the victim and the instigator's behaviour) as a workplace hazard, and ensure, so far as reasonably practicable, that workers' health and safety is not put at risk by exposure to that risk. An employer's health and safety obligations further extends to having policies in place for managing the risks to workers from domestic violence, and ensure that health and safety representatives obtaining training in this area.
Practically, it will be difficult for an employer to meet their duties if they are not aware of the domestic violence. Employers may need to consider taking positive steps to protect employees experiencing family violence and incorporating these into usual business practice. Employers should also consider whether company policies should be amended to ensure the objectives of the Bill are met, including identifying what domestic violence is and detailing the support and training that is available to employees.
If you have any questions regarding any of the issues raised in our article, please contact us.