At the same time NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell faces tough questions about Ray Rice, a new domestic violence law went into effect in Massachusetts. Employers with 50 or more employees must now provide employees who are victims of domestic violence up to 15 days of leave in any 12-month period. Governor Deval Patrick signed the law on August 8, 2014 and it became effective immediately so employers should not delay in taking steps to come into compliance.
Leave is also allowed to employees if a family member is a victim of abusive behavior, including spouses, parents, step-parents, children, step-children, siblings, grandparents, and grandchildren. The definition of family member also includes those in a "substantive" dating or engagement relationship and who live together, persons having a child in common regardless of whether they have ever married or lived together, or a guardian.
The law applies to all employees regardless of how long they have been at the company or how many hours they work. Leave may be taken for any of the following reasons:
- To seek or obtain medical attention, counseling, victim services, or legal assistance;
- To obtain a protective order from a court;
- To appear in court or before a grand jury;
- To meet with a district attorney or other law enforcement official;
- To attend child custody proceedings;
- To secure housing; OR
- To address other issues directly related to the abusive behavior against the employee or his or her family member.
Employers may require employees to provide advance notice for leave unless there is a threat of imminent danger to the health or safety of the employee or a covered family member. If advance notice is not possible, employees must notify the employer within three workdays that the leave was taken under the law. Employees must exhaust accrued paid leave before taking any unpaid leave unless the employer waives this requirement.
The law allows employers to require employees to provide documentation supporting the leave within a reasonable time of the request. An employee satisfies this documentation requirement by providing any one of the following:
- A protective order, order of equitable relief or other documentation issued by a court;
- A document under the letterhead of the court, provider or public agency which the employee attended for the purposes of acquiring assistance as it relates to the abusive behavior;
- A police report or statement of a victim or witness provided to police;
- Documentation that the perpetrator of the abusive behavior against the employee or family member of the employee has: admitted to sufficient facts to support a finding of guilt of abusive behavior; or has been convicted of, or has been adjudicated a juvenile delinquent by reason of, any offense constituting abusive behavior and which is related to the abusive behavior that necessitated the leave under this section;
- Medical documentation of treatment as a result of the abusive behavior;
- A sworn statement, signed under the penalties of perjury, provided by a counselor, social worker, health care worker, member of the clergy, shelter worker, legal advocate or other professional who has assisted the employee or the employee's family member in addressing the effects of the abusive behavior;
- A sworn statement, signed under the penalties of perjury, from the employee attesting that the employee has been the victim of abusive behavior or is the family member of a victim of abusive behavior.
Employers may not retaliate or interfere with an employee's use of such leave, and the Massachusetts Attorney General will enforce the law. It should be noted that this new law adds to the Victim/Witness of Crime law which provides leave to employees who have been a victim of a crime or have been subpoenaed to attend court as a witness.
All covered employers must notify employees of their rights and responsibilities under the law. With an immediate effective date, employers should review all handbooks and policies and amend them accordingly. Supervisors and managers should also be trained on how to handle such leave requests.
The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.