Under the new law, employers with at least 50 employees are required to provide Massachusetts employees with up to 15 days of job-protected leave from work (in any 12 month period) if the employee, or a family member of the employee, is a victim of “abusive behavior” (defined as domestic violence, criminal stalking or sexual assault) and the employee is requesting the leave to address related issues.
Employees are entitled to take leave to:
- Seek or obtain medical attention or counseling
- Appear in court or meet with law enforcement officials about the abusive behavior
- Attend child custody hearings
- Address other issues directly related to the abusive behavior
The employer can decide whether the leave is paid or unpaid. Unless the employer waives the requirement, employees are required to exhaust available vacation, personal and sick time before taking domestic violence leave.
Unless there is a threat of imminent danger, employees must provide advance notice of the leave. When there is such a threat, the employee may take the leave, provided the employee (or employee’s representative) gives notice of the leave within 3 working days.
In this circumstance of an unscheduled absence the law prohibits employers from taking any adverse employment action against the employee if the employee supplies documentation of the need for leave within 30 days.
This documentation can be kept in the employee’s record but only for as long as it takes for the employer to make a determination of whether the employee is eligible for leave under the law. Employers must keep all information regarding the employee’s leave confidential.
Covered employers are required to notify employees of their rights and responsibilities under the new law.
How Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs) Can Help
Domestic Violence has always been a workplace issue and, given the fact that 75% of victims face harassment from intimate partners while at work, failing to prepare could be a costly mistake.
I have written before (“When Domestic Violence Come to Work”) about the many ways that EAPs can support organizations and their employees to reduce risk in these potentially dangerous situations.
The new Massachusetts law presents additional opportunities for EAPs to assist employees and employers. For example, EAP staff can help employees document their need for the leave to their employer as required by the legislation.
There are also many dedicated community organizations available to help employees who are being victimized. The National Domestic Violence Hotline is staffed 24/7 by trained counselors who provide crisis assistance and information about shelters, legal advocacy, healthcare centers and counseling.
The workplace can play a key role in assisting employees who are the victims of domestic violence. The EAP is a valuable and flexible resource for supporting employees and helping employers fulfill their responsibilities under the new law.