Massachusetts’s new domestic violence leave law – which became effective on August 8, 2014 – created new obligations for Massachusetts employers of 50 or more employees. 

Covered employers must permit an employee to take up to 15 days of leave in any 12-month period when the employee or a family member of the employee (as defined in the law) is the victim of abusive behavior. The employee may use the leave for several different purposes related to the abusive behavior such as to obtain medical, legal or counseling services, to obtain a protective order from a court or to meet with a law enforcement official. The leave may be paid or unpaid at the employer’s discretion. 

Additional leave-related requirements for the employer and employee include the following: 

  • Employers may require employees to provide documentation to support the leave within 30 days of the absence. The documentation must demonstrate that the employee or covered family member was the victim of abusive behavior and that the leave was related to that behavior. The law includes several examples of appropriate documentation such as, for example, a protective order from a court, a police report or medical documentation. 
  • Employees must provide advanced notice of the need for leave in accordance with the employer’s leave policy. If there is a threat of imminent danger to the health or safety of the employee or covered family member, the employee must notify the company within three workdays that protected leave was taken or is being taken. Notice of an employee’s need for leave may be provided by a family member or professional assisting the employee with addressing the abusive behavior. 
  • The employer may require employees to exhaust all paid time off, including sick time, vacation time, and personal time, before using leave under this law. 
  • Upon return from leave, the employee must be restored to his or her original position or to an equivalent position. The company may not take any adverse action against an employee for taking leave. Moreover, an employee taking leave may not lose any benefits accrued prior to the start of leave. 
  • If an unscheduled absence occurs, an employer may not take any negative action against the employee if the employee, within 30 days of the unscheduled absence, provides documentation to show that the absence was for a reason permitted under the law. 
  • All information provided by the employee concerning the leave must be kept confidential, unless disclosure is expressly required by law or requested, in writing, by the employee. 
  • Employers must notify employees of their rights and responsibilities under the law, including their right to confidentiality and their notice requirements. 

The Act Relative to Domestic Violence also made significant changes to the criminal justice system. The Massachusetts Attorney General is empowered to enforce the law, and may seek injunctive and equitable relief. Employees also may bring private enforcement actions. The new law falls within the Massachusetts Wage Act, which entitles prevailing plaintiffs to mandatory treble damages and attorneys’ fees. 

Employers should notify employees as soon as possible of the new law, and should update their handbooks to include a policy on this new type of leave.