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Domestic Violence Leave for Massachusetts Employees

Published:  August 13, 2014

Governor Deval Patrick signed a bill into law that creates a category of job-protected leave for employees needing time off due to domestic violence.  As we previously discussed in an article about pending legislation, seen here, this law will require employers with 50 or more employees to permit up to 15 days of leave if either the employee or a family member is a victim of domestic violence or abuse.

This act defines domestic violence as abuse by a current or former spouse, a person with whom the victim shares a child, a person cohabitating with or has cohabitated with the victim, a relative, or a person with whom the employee or family member has or had a dating relationship.  The family member must be the employee’s spouse, parent, step-parent, child, step-child, sibling, grandparent, or grandchild in order to entitle the employee to such leave.   However, the employee is not entitled to job protected leave if he or she is the alleged abuser.

Also, this leave may only be used to address issues directly related to the abusive behavior such as seeking medical attention, counseling, victim services, attaining legal assistance, attending court, or other related activities.  Although the employee’s job must be protected during their leave, the employer is not required to pay the employee for this time.  Further, the employee must exhaust all of their vacation time, sick time, and personal days before they are eligible for this job-protected leave unless the employer decides to waive this requirement.

As with other job-protected leaves, employees should provide as much notice to their employers as possible, but in emergencies advanced notice is excused.  However, regardless of whether such leave is due to an emergency, the employee, a family member, or a professional from whom the employee has sought treatment or other services must notify the employer within three days of taking the leave.  An employer may only discipline an employee for unscheduled absences if there was no notice given regarding the leave and if the employee fails to provide supporting documentation within 30 days of the absence.  This documentation must be kept confidential. 

TAKE AWAY 

Now that this law has passed, employers need to notify employees of their rights under this law.  To satisfy this requirement, employers may want to amend their employee handbooks with a written policy regarding domestic violence leave.  (Regardless, it is wise for employers to have their handbooks reviewed by employment counsel annually to ensure compliance with current laws.)  Additionally, employers should ensure supervisors, managers, and human resources professionals are properly trained regarding this law and their duties under it. 

If you have any questions regarding domestic violence or job-protected leaves, please contact any of the attorneys at Royal LLP at (413) 586-2288.

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