On August 28, 2021, Missouri’s new Victims Economic Safety and Security Act (VESSA) took effect. The statute requires employers with at least 20 employees to provide employees who have experienced domestic or sexual violence with unpaid leave and reasonable safety accommodations. VESSA also requires qualifying employers to comply with employee notice obligations by October 27, 2021.
Employee Eligibility for Leave
An employee working for an employer with at least 20 employees in Missouri is eligible for leave under VESSA if (1) the employee is a victim of domestic violence or sexual abuse, or (2) one or more of the employee’s family or household members are victims of domestic violence or sexual abuse. Employees who take leave are entitled to be restored to their same position or an equivalent position upon return. Additionally, employers are prohibited from retaliating against employees exercising their rights under VESSA.
The leave entitlement is one workweek per year for employers with between 20 and 49 employees, and two workweeks for employers with 50 or more. Leave may be taken intermittently or on a reduced work schedule. Additionally, a qualifying employee is not entitled to “take unpaid leave that exceeds the amount of unpaid leave time allowed for under the federal Family and Medical Leave Act.”
Qualifying Reasons for Leave
Unpaid leave is available under VESSA for any of the following reasons:
- Seeking medical attention for, or recovering from, physical or psychological injuries caused by domestic or sexual violence to the employee or the employee’s family or household member;
- Obtaining services from a victim services organization for the employee or the employee’s family or household member;
- Obtaining psychological or other counseling for the employee or the employee’s family or household member;
- Participating in safety planning, temporarily or permanently relocating, or taking other actions to increase the safety of the employee or the employee’s family or household member from future domestic or sexual violence or to ensure economic security; or
- Seeking legal assistance or remedies to ensure the health and safety of the employee or the employee’s family or household member, including preparing for or participating in any civil or criminal legal proceeding related to or derived from domestic or sexual violence.
Notice and Documentation Requirements
Employees seeking leave under VESSA must provide their employers with at least 48 hours’ advance notice of the intention to take leave, unless giving notice is not practicable. In that case, employees are protected from discipline if they provide documentation justifying the absence “within a reasonable period” of time thereafter.
Employees must also certify that “the employee or the employee’s family member is a victim of domestic or sexual violence and that the leave is for a [qualifying reason].” Employers can require employees to provide certification of their eligibility in the form of a sworn statement and supporting documentation such as a police report, documentation from a victim services organization, or other corroborating documentation.
Reasonable Safety Accommodations
VESSA also requires covered employers to “make reasonable safety accommodations, in a timely manner, to the known limitations resulting from circumstances relating to being a victim of domestic or sexual violence or a family or household member being a victim of domestic or sexual violence,” unless such accommodations would impose an undue hardship on the employer.
VESSA defines “reasonable safety accommodation” as “an adjustment to a job structure, workplace facility, or work requirement, including a transfer, reassignment, modified schedule, leave, a changed telephone number or seating assignment, installation of a lock, implementation of a safety procedure, or assistance in documenting domestic violence that occurs at the workplace or in work-related settings, in response to actual or threatened domestic violence.”
Similar to the unpaid leave certification, an employer may require certification that the reasonable safety accommodation is for a purpose authorized under VESSA.
Covered Missouri employers must notify existing employees of their rights under the new law no later than October 27, 2021. Thereafter, newly hired employees must receive notice of VESSA rights when their employment begins. Although not explicitly required by the new law, employers may wish to incorporate a VESSA policy in their employee handbooks among other leave policies.