What you need to know:

Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick recently signed a law, effective immediately, that requires employers with 50 or more employees to grant up to 15 days of leave from work if an employee or a member of the employee’s family is a victim of domestic violence. 

What you need to do:

Employers should revise their leave policies and train staff regarding these changes.  Employers must also notify each employee of the rights provided by the law and take steps to preserve employee confidentiality if an employee takes leave under the law.

On August 8, Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick signed the Massachusetts Legislature’s domestic violence leave bill into law, effective immediately.  The new law requires employers with 50 or more employees to grant up to 15 days of leave from work in any 12-month period if an employee, or a family member of an employee, is a victim of domestic violence.  An employee who is a perpetrator of abusive behavior against a family member is not eligible for leave.

The leave must be used for addressing domestic violence issues, including meeting with law enforcement or district attorneys; attending child custody proceedings; seeking medical attention or counseling; obtaining victim services or legal assistance; securing housing, or other issues “directly related” to the abusive behavior against the employee or employee’s family member.

An employer can decide whether any leave taken is paid or unpaid.  Employees are generally required to provide advance notice of leave and usually must exhaust vacation and sick days before taking leave.  In the case of a threat of imminent danger to the employee or employee’s family member, however, advance notice is not required, but the employee must notify the employer within three workdays that leave was taken pursuant to the law.  Notification may be communicated by several sources other than the employee, including an employee’s family member, counselor or shelter worker, social worker, health care worker, member of the clergy or legal advocate.

Employers cannot take disciplinary action against an employee for unscheduled absences related to domestic violence, provided the employee furnishes supporting documentation to the employer within three workdays.  Employers may also require employees to provide documentation for scheduled absences that establishes that the leave is properly taken in accordance with the law, although employers cannot require proof of an arrest or conviction.  Several types of documents will suffice, including protective orders, police reports, victim statements, medical documentation, any admission of guilt by the perpetrator or a sworn statement from the employee.

Employers cannot retaliate against employees or otherwise discriminate against them in the terms and conditions of their employment for exercising their rights under the law.  Employees who return from leave must be restored to their original job or an equivalent position, and all employee information regarding domestic violence leave must be kept confidential.  The Massachusetts Attorney General is empowered to enforce the law.