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Changes needed to proposed workplace legislation, says Law Society

25 May 2017

Proposed legislation aiming to enhance legal protections in the workplace for domestic violence victims is unclear and could result in a range of unintended consequences, the New Zealand Law Society says.

The Law Society has presented its submission on the Domestic Violence – Victims’ Protection Bill to Parliament’s Justice and Electoral select committee and says the aim of the bill is commendable.

“The Law Society supports this objective but considers that changes to the bill are needed to achieve it,” Law Society spokesperson Victoria Casey QC has told the committee.

“As currently drafted, the bill is likely to give rise to unintended consequences, including the risk of intrusion into individuals’ privacy,” Ms Casey says.

In the context of domestic violence, privacy and consent to disclosure are very important and raise sensitive and complex questions. The disclosure of highly sensitive personal information to an employer may pose a significant barrier for victims seeking help.

“It is also important that obligations on employers are clear and practicable. The bill does not provide sufficient guidance on how to balance the privacy and best interests of victims with employers’ legal obligations to provide protective measures in the workplace,” Ms Casey says.

The Law Society also questions whether there is a need for new legislative provisions to allow domestic violence victims to request flexible working arrangements, since these can already be accommodated in existing provisions of the Employment Relations Act.

“As currently drafted, the bill makes it more difficult for workers citing domestic violence to obtain flexible working arrangements than other workers who invoke the existing provisions of the Act,” Law Society spokesperson Maria Dew told the committee.

The bill puts domestic violence victims in the unique position of having to provide reasons and prove grounds to support their application for flexible working.

“The bill also subjects domestic violence victims to more onerous requirements in other respects, and the Law Society recommends the select committee consider whether the flexible working needs of these workers can be better met by the existing Employment Relations Act provisions,” Ms Dew says.

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Last updated on the 25th May 2017