Brought into effect on July 3, 2023, the Work-Life Balance and Miscellaneous Provisions Act 2023 is a welcome review of several employment rights for parents and carers. Additionally, more maternity rights for transgender employees are now recognised, while domestic abuse victims now qualify for paid leave entitlement.
We are also seeing more requests for flexible and remote working, and with the new legislation, they are now more accessible than ever. Below, we’ll take a closer look at the implications of these changes for workers and employers.
What changes have been made?
Employees who are currently nursing children now have access to extended breastfeeding rights. Enacted in July 2023, this will be seen by many as a welcome amendment to the Maternity Protection Act 1994.
Workers who are nursing children can now take an hour of paid leave from their duties every day, for a maximum period of up to 2 years, rather than the previous 26 weeks. During this time, an employee’s rate of pay is not affected. Breastfeeding breaks can be taken as a full 60 minutes, separate breaks of 30 minutes, or three 20-minute ones. Alternatively, employees can simply reduce their working hours by an hour without a negative impact on pay.
Extended Access to Maternity Leave for Transgender Men
In the original 1994 Act, Section 7(2) stipulates that only female employees have the right to take maternity leave. This has placed many transgender men who have given birth after transitioning in a difficult situation, with many having to seek out an employment law consultant to access maternity leave. The 2023 Act resolves this issue, removing Section 7(2) entirely.
Leave for Victims of Domestic Violence
One of the more noteworthy additions to be found in the 2023 Act is domestic violence leave. Those who are experiencing domestic violence or have been victims of it in the past are entitled to take 5 days of paid leave in any 12 months. This leave is intended to allow employees to seek out support channels, organise counselling and health services, find legal assistance, or relocate. It also gives individuals the opportunity to obtain a protection order under the Domestic Violence Act 2018.
Employees will receive their full rate of pay during domestic violence leave, and no minimum service requirements apply. As many domestic violence situations are classified as emergencies, no notice period is required when requesting leave, although it is advised. An individual who is supporting a ‘relevant person’ who is a victim of domestic abuse may also be eligible for this paid leave allowance.
Leave for Medical Care Support
In another significant amendment, individuals who are supporting someone else for a serious medical issue will qualify for leave for medical care purposes. Brought into effect in July 2023, employees can request up to 5 days of leave in 12 months, although the leave is unpaid.
However, there are some stipulations attached to this leave allowance. Medical care leave will typically only be granted if the person an employee is caring for is a child, parent, grandparent, or sibling. Cohabitants and spouses, as well as co-habitants sharing your home, are also classified as relevant people.
There’s no minimum service requirement attached to this leave, although it’s recommended that notice be provided as soon as possible. An employer reserves the right to ask for evidence to support the request, such as a medical certificate or note from a healthcare provider. Leave can be taken in full or on separate days.
Flexible Working Requests
Employees who wish to put in a flexible working request no longer need to call in the services of an HR consultant. Provided an employee has a 6-month service record, they’re free to submit a request for flexible working arrangements.
Currently, parents and carers of children aged 12 and under are eligible. Parents and carers of children aged 16 and under also qualify if the child is disabled or suffering from a chronic illness.
Workers caring for a spouse, cohabitant, parent, grandparent, or sibling also qualify. Workers who need to support a care-dependent co-occupant also qualify.
Any supporting documentation should be provided along with the request. Employers should respond to requests within 4 weeks but aren’t obligated to grant flexible working arrangements. However, should an employer refuse a request, they’re expected to explain their reasoning behind the decision. Extending flexible working arrangements to all employees is a hot topic and will be the subject of an upcoming government review.
Remote Working Requests
As with flexible working requests, employees will need to have a 6-month service record to request a remote working arrangement. These need to be made 8 weeks before the intended commencement of a remote working arrangement. Employers are obligated to respond within 4 weeks of receiving a request but reserve the right to refuse. Internal appeals need to be granted in the event of a refusal.
New legislation dictates that employers should have a formal remote work policy in place. Employers are advised to refer to the Code of Practice on the Right to Disconnect issued by the Workplace Relations Commission when developing their policy.
Implications for Workers and Employers
For many employees, the Work-Life Balance and Miscellaneous Provisions Act 2023 brings many long-overdue benefits. However, it’s not as comprehensive as some were hoping. Paid leave provisions for those experiencing menopause and reproductive health-related issues are lacking from the 2023 Act, but initiatives are being discussed. Likewise, new strategies for older employees who choose to work beyond retirement age are coming into focus.
For employers, the 2023 Act requires a revamp of employee handbooks and working policies. However, resources like the WRC’s Code of Practice provide essential guidance on implementing these policies effectively.
Need help to understand your Obligations?
Are you an employer who finds it hard to keep up with the latest changes? With so many amendments to legislation, understanding your obligations can be confusing. If you need help making sense of things, why not talk to the experts at the HR Suite?
Our HR outsourcing and consulting services mean you’ll know exactly what’s expected of you as an employer, with industry-leading support for your in-house teams.