A new Massachusetts law expands the rights of individuals who are victims of, or have a family member who is a victim of, domestic violence.  One portion of the law places new requirements on employers with 50 or more employees.

Specifically, covered employers must give employees up to 15 days of leave in any 12 month period to address domestic violence against themselves or a family member (a “Domestic Violence Leave”).  A “family member” is broadly defined as: a spouse; persons in a dating or engagement relationship who live together; persons having a child together, regardless of their marital or living arrangements; a parent, step-parent, child, step-child, sibling, grandparent or grandchild; and persons in a guardianship relationship.

The Domestic Violence Leave must be granted under the following conditions:

  • the employee or a family member is a victim of domestic violence;
  • the employee needs time off to address issues directly related to the domestic violence against the employee or a family member; and
  • the employee is not the perpetrator of the domestic violence.

Employees must give their employer the same amount of advance notice for a Domestic Violence Leave as the employer requires for any other leave unless there is a threat of imminent danger to the health or safety of the employee or the employee’s family member.  In that case, the employee or his/her representative must notify the employer within 3 business days after the Domestic Violence Leave begins.

However, even in the absence of such notice, employers may not take any negative action against an employee who provides the employer with documentation supporting the employee’s need for the leave within 30 days of the employee’s absence.

Employers may require employees to provide any of the following documents to substantiate the need for the leave.

  • a court order resulting from the domestic violence;
  • a document with the letterhead of the court, provider or agency the employee attended to obtain assistance about the domestic violence;
  • a police report or statement of a victim or witness provided to the police, including a police incident report documenting the domestic violence;
  • documentation showing the person who committed the abuse leading to the leave has admitted to sufficient facts to support a finding of guilt, has been convicted of the domestic violence, or has been adjudicated a juvenile delinquent by reason of the domestic violence leading to the leave;
  • medical documentation of treatment due to domestic violence;
  • a sworn statement from a professional who assisted the employee or family member to address the effects of the violence; or
  • a sworn statement from the employee attesting that the employee or a family member has been the victim of domestic violence.

The above documents may only be maintained in the employee’s personnel file for the time the employer requires to determine if the employee is eligible for the Domestic Violence Leave.

All information related to the employee’s Domestic Violence Leave must be kept strictly confidential and may only be disclosed if:

  • the employee requests or consents in writing to disclosure;
  • a court of competent jurisdiction orders the release of the information;
  • required by applicable federal or state law;
  • required during an investigation authorized by law enforcement; or
  • necessary to protect the safety of the employee or other employees.

The leave may be either paid or unpaid, at the employer’s election.  Employers may require employees to use all available paid time off prior to granting the Domestic Violence Leave.

Employers may not discriminate against or retaliate in any way against any employee who takes the leave.  Upon the employee’s return from leave, the employee must be returned to his/her original or equivalent position.

Finally, employers with 50 or more employees must notify each employee of their rights under this law.  Consequently, we recommend that all employers add a notice about this Leave to their employee handbooks.