On August 8, 2014, Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick signed “An Act Relative to Domestic Violence” into law. The law requires larger Massachusetts employers to provide leave time to employees who are affected by domestic violence.

WHICH EMPLOYERS ARE COVERED BY THE LAW?

The law applies to public and private employers with 50 or more employees.

WHAT ARE COVERED EMPLOYERS REQUIRED TO DO?

Employers with 50 or more employees must grant up to 15 days of leave in any 12-month period if an employee or a family member of the employee is a victim of domestic violence. No leave is required if the employee is the perpetrator of the abusive behavior.

Employers must reinstate an employee returning from a domestic violence leave to his/her original, or an equivalent, position.

Employers must keep all documentation regarding domestic violence leave confidential.

Employers must notify employees of their rights and responsibilities under this new law.

WHO IS ELIGIBLE FOR DOMESTIC VIOLENCE LEAVE?

An employee is eligible for domestic violence leave if the employee or a member of the employee’s family is a victim of abusive behavior. “Abusive behavior” is defined in the law as physical and mental abuse and includes domestic violence, stalking, sexual assault and kidnapping.

WHAT MAY THE LEAVE BE USED FOR?

The leave may be used for purposes directly related to the domestic violence, such as seeking or obtaining medical care, counseling, victim services or legal assistance, meeting with law enforcement or a district attorney, securing housing, appearing in court or before a grand jury or attending child custody proceedings.

IS THE LEAVE PAID OR UNPAID?

The leave may be paid or unpaid, at the employer’s discretion.

An employee can take domestic violence leave only after using up all accrued vacation and sick days unless the employer waives this requirement.

DOES THE EMPLOYEE HAVE TO PROVIDE THE EMPLOYER WITH ADVANCE NOTICE OR DOCUMENTATION OF THE LEAVE?

The employee must provide “appropriate notice” of the need for leave except if the employee or his/her family member is facing the threat of imminent danger. In that case, the employee must notify the employer within 3 work days that he/she has taken domestic violence leave.

Notice of domestic violence leave may be given by the employee or someone acting on the employee’s behalf, such as a family member, counselor, shelter worker, social worker, health care worker, legal advocate or clergy member.

MAY THE EMPLOYER REQUIRE PROOF OF THE EMPLOYEE’S ELIGIBILITY FOR LEAVE?

The employer may require the employee to provide documentation showing that the leave was taken for a purpose allowed by the law. Such documentation may consist of a protective order, a document on the letterhead of the court, agency or service provider which the employee attended, a police report, victim statement, medical documentation of treatment, an admission of guilt by the abuser or a sworn statement by the employee or a counselor, social worker, health care worker, clergy member, shelter worker, legal advocate or other professional who provided assistance for the effects of the abusive behavior.

WHAT ARE COVERED EMPLOYERS PROHIBITED FROM DOING?

Employers may not:

  • retaliate or discriminate against an employee who exercises any rights granted by this law
  • discipline an employee for unscheduled absences related to domestic violence, as long as the employee provides the necessary documentation of the need for leave within 30 days from the unauthorized absence
  • require proof of any arrest or conviction
  • require the employee to break off contact with the abuser as a condition of exercising the employee’s rights under the law

HOW WILL THE LAW BE ENFORCED?

The Attorney General is charged with enforcing this law and may obtain injunctive or other equitable relief.

Employees also have a private right to bring an action using the same provisions in place for redressing violations of the Massachusetts wage and hour law.