Effective October 1, 2010, two new laws are strengthening the protections available to family violence victims in the workplace and require virtually all employers in Connecticut to provide employees who are victims of domestic violence with up to 12 days of family violence leave per calendar year. On June 7, 2010, Governor M. Jodi Rell signed House Bill 5497 (P.A. 10-144), a comprehensive domestic violence bill that adopts a number of recommendations made by the bipartisan Speaker of the House of Representatives' Task Force on Domestic Violence, including two specific provisions affecting Connecticut employers.
The new law amends Section 54-85b of the General Statutes; enhances existing protections for crime victims at work; and now more explicitly prohibits an employer from refusing to hire, terminating, penalizing, threatening, or otherwise retaliating against any employee because the worker is a victim of family violence or because the employee attends or participates in a court proceeding related to a civil case in which he or she is a victim of family violence. The bill also doubles, from 90 to 180 days, the time an employee has under the statute to bring a civil action against an employer and provides for mandatory attorney's fees if the employee prevails. The statute already provides for fines and criminal penalties, including imprisonment, for employers who violate this law.
Another section of the bill gives employees a new right to take "family violence leave," by requiring all Connecticut employers with three or more workers to provide family violence victims with at least 12 days of paid or unpaid leave if reasonably necessary to:
- seek medical care or psychological or other counseling for physical or psychological injury or disability,
- obtain services from a victim services organization,
- relocate due to family violence reasons, or
- participate in any civil or criminal proceeding related to or resulting from such family violence.
The new law does not require employers to pay the employee while on leave but permits employees to use their accrued compensatory time, vacation time, personal days, or other paid time off in connection with the leave. The bill also specifies that this new leave does not affect any other rights available to workers under state or federal law. The law allows employers to require no more than seven days' notice when the need to use leave is foreseeable and notice as soon as practicable when it is not. Other provisions of the law permit employers to require a signed written statement certifying that the leave is for an authorized purpose and to request from the employee certain evidence, including police or court records and/or written statements from attorneys, medical professionals, social workers, and/or victim services organizations. Finally, the provisions of the bill also require an employer to protect from disclosure and maintain in strict confidence any information provided by the employee in response to the employer's request.
Like the statute protecting crime victims at work, the new family violence leave statute provides eligible employees who are denied the leave or otherwise retaliated against for requesting or using it with a civil cause of action. The employee has 180 days from the occurrence of such action to bring a civil action seeking damages, reinstatement, or an order rescinding any adverse employment action taken. If the employee prevails, the court must award the employee reasonable attorney's fees.
Connecticut employers covered by these laws should revise their personnel policies and procedures to be consistent with the new requirements. It would also be prudent for employers to seek advice of counsel when creating a family violence leave policy or updating existing non-retaliation provisions to comply with the new laws.