The Practicality of Domestic Violence Leave

Business woman looking contemplatively at phone

As of April 2019, the New Zealand Government has adopted the Domestic Violence Victims’ Protection Act in response to the country’s staggering family violence statistics. This act has been praised by news media and family violence agencies alike, but what does it actually mean for employers and their employees affected by violence?

According to Employment New Zealand, the Act “adds legal protections in the workplace for people affected by domestic violence.” These protections include the right for employees to take at least 10 days of paid domestic violence leave, ask for up to two-months of flexible working arrangements, and not be treated adversely in the workplace because of their experiences.

Kayla* had only recently started her new job when she decided to seek help with her violent relationship. She joined Aviva’s group programme for women experiencing violence but realised she would need to miss work to attend the full course. Her support worker encouraged her to seek leave and assisted in setting out the terms for her request. Having been a past donor, her CEO Mike* was already familiar with Aviva services. “We were sympathetic to her situation and saddened that it was occurring. We had no hesitation in approving the request for DV leave,” he says. “[The programme] really did help me to understand the cycle of violence, and finally allow me to let go,” Kayla explains. “It really would not have been possible without the support of my work and the ability to have the leave.”

The benefits of the Act are clear, but Aviva General Manager Nicki O’Donnell notes that there is still a gap. “For us, it’s all about inclusiveness. You can’t change the cycle of violence if you are only working with people experiencing family violence." Aviva believes in everyone’s potential to become a better parent, partner or citizen and that, in order to achieve a violence free society, people using violence need to be included in the conversation.

There are other practical barriers to requesting leave. Admitting you are experiencing or using violence is a highly difficult process. People often feel shame, guilt, or confusion, and may be uncomfortable discussing their situation with friends or family, let alone an employer. The legislation’s lack of a confidentiality policy and the employers’ right to ask for proof further discourages people from reaching out. Although a high-risk situation may have a police report attached, most of the violence taking place today will never come to the attention of the police or professional services. Someone experiencing violence may not have “proof” to give.

Nicki explains that as part of the Human Resources team at Aviva, she would not ask for proof of domestic violence. “When people come and ask you [for domestic violence leave], they are courageous to say something is not right. As much as employers may have a DV policy in place, there needs to be some flexibility.”

Mike agrees with the need for flexibility, having ignored his own six-month service requirement to grant Kayla’s request. “We would approach each situation independently, rather than be guided by policy,” he explains. Mike and Kayla further emphasise the value organisations like Aviva can offer, whether it be acting as a liaison, giving guidance, or offering peace of mind. “With all you are already going through and have been through, it’s nice to have the support in place,” Kayla says.

Although Mike’s understanding helped Kayla to overcome a violent situation, it may not be that way for everyone. “It’s easy for us to say come and talk. But will they?” Nicki asks. Aviva has created “Let’s Talk / Me Kōrero” to help start the conversation. If you are interested in making sure everyone in your workplace feels safe and respected to come forward with their experience, contact to find out more.

*Not their real names