Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice, Carolina Panthers Pro Bowl defensive end Greg Hardy, and San Francisco 49ers defensive end Ray MacDonald all have something in common (and it’s not just that they are incredibly talented professional football players): They have all been indicted for engaging in conduct that constitutes domestic violence. In Hardy’s case, he has been convicted for domestic abuse. And just a few days ago, Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson was indicted for abusing his son and is now under investigation for abusing another son.
The National Football League’s travails with perpetrators of domestic violence have been numerous and storied, and after years of dealing with player domestic abuse instances, the NFL finally instituted a Domestic Violence Policy. While the NFL’s policy is directed towards perpetrators of domestic violence, Massachusetts employers now are required to protect employee victims of domestic violence.
As of September 1, 2014, Massachusetts has joined 20 other states by enacting an Act Relative to Domestic Violence (“DV Law”). The DV Law requires employers to:
- Provide notice about the DV Law to all of its employees.
- Grant, and reinstate employees after, domestic violence leave.
- Not engage in discrimination or retaliation against any employee exercising his or her right to leave under the DV Law. (Employers should also institute a protocol for employees to report possible violations of the DV Law and for investigating such reports. The protocol may be similar to that used for reporting and investigating reports of sexual harassment in the workplace.)
- Keep confidential any information received in connection with an employee’s requesting or taking leave under the DV Law.
Below is a summary of some additional key terms.
When is the DV Law effective?
The DV Law became effective on September 1, 2014.
What employers are covered by the DV Law?
Employers with fifty (50) or more employees are subject to the DV Law. As with many Massachusetts statutes affecting employee rights, the definition of employer is not limited to entities organized under the laws of, or having a place of business in, the Commonwealth. Nor does it define employees protected by such law as those working in Massachusetts.
What employees are covered by the DV Law?
The DV Law protects any employee who (i) works for an employer with fifty (50) or more employees and (ii) is, or has a family member who is, a victim of abusive behavior by a current or former spouse or person with whom there was a dating, engagement, cohabitation, or co-parental relationship. The employee need not be located in Massachusetts and does not need to have been employed for any period of time before being entitled to the protections of the DV Law.
To what is an eligible employee entitled?
An eligible employee may take up to fifteen (15) days of unpaid leave in a twelve (12) month period to:
- Seek or obtain medical attention, counseling, victim services or legal assistance;
- Secure housing;
- Obtain a protective order, appear in court proceedings, or meet with a district attorney or other law enforcement official;
- Attend a child custody hearing; or
- Address other issues directly relating to the abuse.
What notification or verification must an employee provide?
Where advance notice is available, employees are required to notify their employers as to when and for how long leave is needed. Where an employee may be in imminent danger, advance notice is not required, but an employee must give her employer notice within three (3) workdays. However, if an employee takes an unauthorized absence that is for a reason permitted under the DV Law, then her employer may not take any negative action against the employee if the employee provides verification within thirty (30) days from the last absence that the reason for the absence was one that is protected by the DV Law.
Although the DV Law does not require it, taking a page from the NFL’s playbook, it behooves employers, and particularly in-house counsel who must advise on how to handle employee situations that may be publicly damaging, to take this opportunity to consider a policy for handling employees who are perpetrators of domestic abuse (while being mindful of legal requirements related to the use of criminal records information).