Massachusetts’ newly enacted “An Act Relative to Domestic Violence,” signed into law August 8, 2014, will pose new obligations upon employers having a staff of 50 employees or more.
Covered businesses will now have to notify employees of their right to domestic violence leave. Leave may be permitted for up to 15 days in any 12-month period, and upon return from leave the employee is entitled to restoration of the employee’s original job or its equivalent. The term “domestic violence” is broadly defined and extends to abuse against an employee’s family members.
Domestic violence leave may be taken to attend to any number of issues that may arise from an incident of domestic violence, including, for example, court appearances, medical treatment, and counseling appointments. Leave may be paid or unpaid, and the employer may require the employee to use up any paid leave first.
Notice must be provided in advance of the need for leave, except in cases where imminent danger is involved, in which case the employee must provide notice within three workdays that domestic violence leave was taken.
Documentation evidencing the need to take leave must be provided to the employer. The statute enumerates specific categories of documentation that satisfied the requirement. Where such documentation is provided within 30 days following an unscheduled absence, the employer may not take adverse action against the employee for the absence.
Information regarding an employee’s domestic violence leave must remain confidential.
Employers are prohibited by the new law from either interfering with an employee’s domestic violence leave rights, or from discriminating against an employee for exercising leave rights.
The Massachusetts legislature has provided a significant enforcement weapon to employees. In addition to filing a complaint with the Attorney General’s Office, employees may seek enforcement of their rights under the new law through private litigation. An employee who prevails in a lawsuit would be entitled to collect treble damages, as well as attorney’s fees.
The law goes into effect immediately. In order to comply with the new law, handbooks and policies should be amended to reflect the new protections and rights afforded employees, and managers and supervisors should be trained in the provisions of the law.