I’m so glad I’m no longer an employer

As some of you will already know, I used to run my own accountancy practice, until April 2017 when we merged with a larger firm. Since then I have had no responsibility for the affairs of the practice and, in some ways, this is a relief.

In particular, it is a relief that I am no longer an employer.

Firstly, let it be said that we had some wonderful people in our time. I am very proud of the firm we built up, and the employees of the firm were an enormous part of that.

Needless to say, there were always some who liked to take advantage.

There was one I remember who would use up her entire annual quota of sick leave within a month of its anniversary. So, if her entitlement came due on 1 May she would have used it all up by 31 May. Every year.

Good employers will always give a bit more to their good staff, knowing that they will get it back one way or another. This woman never got an extra day’s sick leave paid. I did it for most of the others, if necessary, but as she insisted on using all of hers when she clearly wasn’t actually sick, any genuine sick days that fell between June and the following April were always unpaid. And it happened, of course.

She must have thought I was stupid, but if anyone was stupid, clearly it was her.

So, here I am wondering about the new provisions for 10 days additional leave per year for victims of domestic violence.

Deb?has already written an excellent article on this subject, pointing out that the new provisions will do nothing to help victims,because the only thing that will help victims of domestic abuse is to somehow stop people from bashing each other. I completely agree.

Looking at it entirely from an employer’s perspective, I think it creates some real risks.

Firstly, it never happened to me, but if I had had an employee suffering from domestic violence, I would have done anything I could to help. Most employers would. This may have involved them taking extra time off, but if I believed it to be genuine, I would have allowed that anyway. There were lots of occasions when we did a little bit extra for worthy staff members when they needed it. But now there is no choice, and there is no opportunity for discretion on the part of the employer either.

This means that some employers will stop going that extra mile for employees who might need help, because they can now be forced to give extra paid leave to employees who are deemed to need it by the government, not by the employer, regardless of what they might have done anyway.

I can understand if the idea behind this is to give employees who need to relocate time to find new accommodation and set themselves up, but I would expect that to be a one-off situation. This new law allows 10 days per year to a victim of domestic violence. I know I am going to sound completely heartless, but what if an employee lives with domestic violence on a continual basis, and fails to get away from it? The way I read this law, this will mean that this employee just gets an extra 10 days leave every year, and that’s it.

Employees in New Zealand already get a generous amount of leave: that is 20 days’ annual leave, five days’ sick leave, five days special leave (for bereavements, mainly) and 11 statutory days. That is 41 days. I didn’t begrudge any of my staff a single day of it, and it has to be said that most of them did not use up all their sick or special leave. But now a victim of domestic violence is entitled to 51 days every year. I just can’t see how it is going to do anything for the victims, but potentially, it could cost employers considerably.

I mean, how do you prove that someone is a victim of domestic violence? It isn’t a matter of getting a note from a doctor, is it? Well, possibly, in some cases. But what does an employer do if they think the employee is trying it on by claiming that they are subject to abuse at home? This is a tricky area. What if the abuse is non violent? What if it is emotional abuse rather than physical? It is still abuse, but there are no bruises. How does an employer know if the employee is telling the truth or not?

The answer is they don’t. If an employee claims that they are being abused at home, then the employer will have no alternative but to give them extra paid leave whether it is actually true or not. And that is the trouble.

I’m not meaning to denigrate real victims of domestic violence, but I can see how this new provision can so easily be used as a beat up on employers. The employer will be seen as cold and heartless if they even imply that the so-called victim is making up their abuse story to gain extra paid leave. Very few employers will go there, and so the end result is that, if one of your employees is the kind of person who takes sick or bereavement leave when they are not truly entitled, then this is a great opportunity for them. We all know people like that. I’ve already talked about one who used to work for me.

After all, would one bad argument at home entitle an employee to time off because of domestic abuse? Where does it all end?

I’m sure the intentions behind this particular law are well meaning, but I can see it being abused?? pun absolutely intended?? quite badly. Once again, the government, and particularly the Green party, simply treat employers and business owners like a cash machine. As the minimum wage rises towards $20, and we head back towards collective agreements from the 1970s, this latest kick in the teeth for good employers may well be the last straw for some. Automation and outsourcing look like good alternatives, and they are being used more widely in New Zealand every day.

Certainly, I am glad that, in 2018, I am no longer an employer. Even though I really enjoyed it, by and large.