Paid Leave for Victims of Domestic Violence

By: LAUREN SCARFF


          New Zealand has one of the highest rates of domestic violence in the developed world. Every four minutes, a police officer responds to a domestic violence call every four minutes.[1] One in three women are victims of domestic violence at some time in their lives, although eighty percent of these domestic violence cases go unreported.[2] Finally, almost half of all homicides committed are the result of domestic violence.[3] According to a study done by economist Suzanne Snively, family violence costs New Zealand between $4.1 and $7 billion every year in pain, suffering, premature death, reduced productivity, costs of justice and social services, increased costs as a result of partners living in different homes, welfare costs, and health costs.[4] Domestic violence plagues New Zealand, and to fight these alarming statistics, the Victims’ Protection Act was passed on July 26, 2018.

            The Victims’ Protection Act, which is the product of seven years of work by Green MP Jan Logie, was passed by a vote of 63 to 57 in July of 2018 and went into effect in April of 2019.[5] Voting for the bill fell exactly along party lines as the Labour coalition supported it and the National and ACT parties voted against it.[6] The law requires that employers give any employees who are victims of domestic violence ten days paid leave. The law mandates that victims don’t have to provide proof of their circumstances to get these ten days and that employers should also create an easy path for victims to receive flexible work conditions, which include allowing a change in work location and email address and removing any contact information from the business’s website.[7]

            The main argument in support of this law is that it gives victims of domestic violence time to leave whatever dangerous situation they may be in and protect their families. One of the main reasons domestic violence victims stay in a dangerous relationship or environment is for fear that they will lose their jobs. The supporters of the law believe that with this standardized requirement to provide paid leave, victims will be able to more confidently remove themselves from the relationship knowing that they will still be able to keep their jobs and provide for their families.[8] Furthermore, allowing victims to change their work location will allow the victim to stay away or hide from the dangerous situation as long as they may need. Changing the victim’s work email address and removing information on the victim from the business’s website further protects the victim from any unwanted or potentially dangerous contact with their abuser.[9] All of these steps either required or suggested in the Victims’ Protection Act were made, the Labour coalition asserts, to empower domestic violence victims to feel comfortable and safe in removing themselves from any dangerous situations.[10]

            Many opponents of the law argue that domestic violence and work, in most circumstances, are not in the least bit related, however, supporters of the law have shown that domestic violence does indeed have an impact on businesses. Jan Logie, the MP that wrote the original bill, claims that businesses lose more than 368 million dollars a year as a result of domestic violence. Domestic violence leads to a loss of productivity and a higher employee turnover rate, which leads to an increase in new employees who need to be trained.[11] Businesses lose massive amounts of productivity as domestic violence is brought into the workplace via constant emailing or phone calls and the stalking or threatening a victim while they’re at work.[12] A main tactic of domestic abusers is also to push their victims to quit their jobs. This way, the victims will be completely reliant on their abusers for income and will be much less likely to leave them.[13]

            Beyond the concrete effects the law will have in aiding victims of domestic violence, supporters of the law believe that it will force businesses to realize that domestic violence is not just a social issue. Jan Logie claims that this law will force businesses to say that “the safety and well-being of our staff experiencing domestic violence is our business” (Logie). By not only enacting this law but by advertising the monetary losses businesses are experiencing because of domestic violence, Logie and the law’s supporters believe that the issue of domestic violence will become an economic issue as well.[14] This will ultimately give the government, the public, and the private sector even more of a reason to work together to end the plague that is domestic violence in New Zealand. The law challenges the very nature that domestic violence is only an issue domestically, and advocates for the belief that simply requiring employers to give victims a ten-day paid leave will result in a widespread change in how domestic violence is viewed and how New Zealand can work to end it.[15]

          The National Party and ACT Party voted unanimously against the bill in 2018 mainly because they believed it would hurt small and medium-sized businesses. Mark Mitchell, the Spokesperson for Justice for the National Party, was the voice for the National Party’s opposition to the law.[16] He claimed that the burden of giving domestic violence victims ten days paid leave was simply too much for small and medium-sized businesses to bear.[17] The National Party, however, was not totally against the essence of the law. It was suggested that the government should fund the law instead of leaving it to small businesses.[18] It was also proposed that domestic violence leave should be included in vacation and sick leave. Finally, the National Party proposed an amendment that would kickstart a nationwide educational campaign to teach employers how they could and should play a part in ending domestic violence.[19] The National Party’s main issue with the law really was not with the law itself, but with who was going to fund it.

          Furthermore, the National Party argued that the law would not actually result in ameliorating New Zealand’s domestic violence problem. A mandatory paid leave for victims of domestic violence would bring victims relief, the National Party understood, but there appeared to be no path towards the prevention of domestic violence offered in the law.[20] The Party was not in favor of a law that seemingly wouldn’t directly avoid any further instance of domestic violence, especially considering the toll it would have on small and medium-sized businesses. Those against the law believed that the economic losses that these businesses would face outweighed the benefits of a law that only brought relief, and not preventative measures, to the issue of domestic violence.[21]

          Not only did the National Party argue that the Victims’ Protection Act wouldn’t prevent domestic violence, but they also believed that it would actually encourage employers not to hire people they believe may be victims of domestic violence. Opponents of the law believed that mandatory paid leave for domestic violence victims would give employers incentive to not hire people who have been victims of domestic violence in the past, especially women, because of the economic burden it would put on their business.[22] Although the law has clauses that protect victims from this kind of discrimination,[23] employment discrimination is often incredibly hard to enforce, and those against the law believed that these preventative clauses would likely not be enough to discourage this discrimination. Again, the National Party believed that the risk of businesses promulgating this kind of employment discrimination outweighed the potential benefits of the law.[24]

          At face value, the Victims’ Protection Act offers relief and protection for victims of domestic violence. Beyond this face value, however, the law brings domestic violence to an economic platform by emphasizing the massive effects domestic violence has outside the home and in businesses. Jan Logie and the Labour Coalition aimed to bring the conversation of domestic violence to a new audience in an effort to end the issue completely. The National Party, however, had concerns about how the law would be funded and the burden the law would put on small and medium-sized businesses. On top of this, there was great fear that the law would ultimately hurt victims of domestic violence by incentivizing businesses to discriminate against past victims or suspected victims of domestic violence. The economic burden combined with the potential to promote employment discrimination outweighed any potential benefit the law may have for the National Party, especially considering the law seemingly would not prevent domestic violence.


[1] Anna Bracewell-Worrall, New Zealand Passes Bill Giving 10 Days’ Leave to Domestic Violence Victims, Newshub (July 25, 2018), https://www.newshub.co.nz/home/politics/2018/07/new-zealand-passes-bill-giving-10-days-leave-to-domestic-violence-victims.html.

[2]Anna Leask, Family Violence: 525,000 New Zealanders Harmed Every Year, NZ Herald (March 26, 2017), https://www.nzherald.co.nz/family-violence/news/article.cfm?c_id=178&objectid=11634543.

[3] New Zealand Grants Domestic Violence Victims Paid Leave, BBC News (July 15, 2018), https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-pacific-44951237.

[4] Simon Collins, Family Violence Costs NZ up to $7 Billion a Year,  NZ Herald (August 24, 2017), https://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=11356152.

[5] Eleanor Ainge Roy, “A Huge Win”: New Zealand Brings in Paid Domestic Violence Leave, The Guardian (July 26, 2018), https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/jul/26/new-zealand-paid-domestic-violence-leave-jan-logie.

[6] Laura Walters, Domestic Violence Victims Able to Take a New Form of Leave, Stuff (July 15, 2018), https://www.stuff.co.nz/national/politics/105735404/domestic-violence-victims-able-to-take-a-new-form-of-leave.

[7] Supra. See note 5

[8] Merrit Kennedy, New Zealand Will Provide Paid Leave to Domestic Violence Survivors, NPR (July 26,2018), https://www.npr.org/2018/07/26/632601325/new-zealand-will-provide-paid-leave-to-domestic-violence-survivors.

[9]Supra. See note 5

[10]Supra. See note 8

[11] Susan Edmunds, Domestic Violence Costs Employers Millions of Dollars – Green MP Jan Logie, Stuff (February 28, 2017), https://www.stuff.co.nz/business/89866077/domestic-violence-costs-employers-millions.

[12] Supra. See note 5

[13] Supra. See note 5

[14] Supra. See note 11

[15] Supra. See note 5

[16] Supra. See note 6

[17] Supra. See note 6

[18] Supra. See note 3

[19] Supra. See note 6

[20] Supra. See note 3

[21] Supra. See note 1

[22] Supra. See note 1

[23] Charlotte Graham-Mclay, New Zealand Grants Domestic Violence Victims Paid Leave, The New York Times (July 26, 2018), https://www.nytimes.com/2018/07/26/world/asia/new-zealand-domestic-violence-leave.html.

[24] Supra. See note 3

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