In August, Governor Patrick signed a new law providing leave for victims (or family members of victims) of domestic violence, “An Act Relative to Domestic Violence” (to be codified at M.G.L. c. 149, § 52E.). The law is effective immediately.
Massachusetts employers with 50 or more employees must now grant up to 15 days of leave in a 12-month period to any employee who is the victim of abusive behavior or to family members of a victim for the following purposes: to obtain medical attention, counseling, victim services or legal assistance; to secure housing; to appear in court or before a grand jury; to meet with a district attorney or other law enforcement official; to attend child custody proceedings or to address other issues directly related to the abusive behavior.
An employee seeking domestic violence leave must provide advance notice, unless in imminent danger, in which case notice is to be provided to the employer within three (3) business days of the start of the leave. If an unscheduled absence occurs, an employer may not take any negative action against the employee for that absence if the employee provides the necessary documentation within 30 days of the unauthorized absence.
The statute sets out examples of acceptable documentation, which must be kept only for as long as it takes the employer to determine that the employee is eligible for the leave. All information related to the employee’s leave under this section must be kept confidential by the employer.
The leave may be paid or unpaid, at the discretion of the employer. An employee seeking domestic violence leave must first exhaust all available vacation, personal, or sick leave, unless the employer waives the requirement.
An employer may not discharge or otherwise discriminate against an employee for exercising his or her rights under this section. Upon return from leave, the employee must be restored to his or her original job or to an equivalent position, and cannot suffer any loss of benefits that had accrued prior to the leave.
Covered employers must notify employees of the rights and responsibilities provided by the domestic violence leave act, including those related to notification requirements and confidentiality.
The Attorney General has the power to enforce the new law and may seek injunctive or other equitable relief. An employee may bring a private cause of action and, if he or she prevails, can be awarded treble damages and attorney’s fees.