Cultural leave

Whether councils need to have Aboriginal-specific cultural leave policies is a commonly asked question. The short answer is that this is best determined on a case-by-case basis consistent with the organisation's general approach to engagement and retention of staff. Aboriginal employees can at times experience pressure in meeting their cultural responsibilities to their extended family and community, which can sometimes result in them taking frequent and unexpected leave days. This poses difficulties for the employing organisation, particularly if the task of the employee involves customer service responsibilities and last minute arrangements have to be made to cover the absence.

Equity issues with other staff can also arise, if the response to the problem is for Aboriginal employees to have more generous leave arrangements than employees of other backgrounds. This can lead to resentment and jealousy, particularly if these other staff members have to bear the inconvenience that arise from the absences.

Possible approaches

At a MAV forum attended by human resource and community development managers in November 2014, the following ideas were raised about how councils might deal with these issues:

  • Agree about the expectations of the organisation and the employee from the beginning
  • Understand the cultural features of Aboriginal family structures
  • Explain that Aboriginal people are coming from a different starting point to others because of their history of family dispossession and experiences of the stolen generations
  • Have cultural awareness education activities delivered over time to allow participants to absorb and reflect more meaningfully than quick one-off sessions
  • Develop a return-to-work plan with the employee
  • Seek advance warning of cultural events and activities of importance so a plan can be developed to manage the leave early, rather than at the last minute
  • Enable internal Aboriginal staff gatherings
  • Have an Aboriginal support and development team
  • Source external service providers for mentoring support for Aboriginal employees
  • Have a community members / elders working group
  • If there is to be specific provisions for Aboriginal events, then have a fact sheet for the whole organisation outlining the rationale
  • If you have Aboriginal staff and an open communication culture, 'ask the employee'.

Examples of cultural leave provisions

There are many examples of cultural leave policies; here is a selection: