The National Football League’s recent problems with domestic violence have brought a lot of attention to the subject, and some legislators are taking advantage – pushing for more employee protections and adding to companies’ administrative burdens.
In the wake of one of the most high-profile domestic violence incidents in recent memory, Massachusetts enacted An Act Relative to Domestic Violence.
The law requires employers with 50 or more employees to permit employees impacted by domestic violence to take up to 15 days of leave in any 12-month period.
The law’s worth paying attention to because — as is often the case in this monkey-see, monkey-do world of employment law — states will likely be looking at this as a model for similar legislation of their own now that domestic violence is back on the front page.
Breaking down the law
Employees of Massachusetts employers covered by the new law will be eligible for domestic violence leave if:
- the employee, or a family member of the employees, is a victim of “abusive behavior”
- the employee is not the perpetrator of the abusive behavior
- the employee uses the leave for purposes closely related to the abusive behavior, such as obtaining medical attention or counseling, securing housing, attending court proceedings, obtaining a protective order from a court or meeting with law enforcement officials.
What qualifies as “abusive behavior?” The law defines it broadly, to include both physical abuse and mental abuse.
Much like leave under the Family Medical Leave Act, employees cannot have an adverse employment action taken against them for exercising — or attempting to exercise — their rights under the law. Employees must also be returned to their original job or an equivalent position upon returning from domestic violence leave.
The good news for administrators: Employers have some discretion when it comes to administering the law.
- Employers can decide if the leave is paid or unpaid.
- Whether employees have to use up available paid time off — i.e., sick, personal and vacation days — prior to requesting domestic violence leave will be left up to employers, and
- Employers can decide whether or not to require employees to provide documentation substantiating the need for leave.
Employees are required to provide employers with “appropriate notice” of the need for domestic violence leave, unless they — or a loved one — are in imminent danger. The law doesn’t define “appropriate notice,” so employers should adopt notice requirements mirroring those of other leave laws.
Covered employers are also required to notify employees of their rights and responsibilities under the law.