Domestic Violence Leave in Massachusetts

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In August 2014, An Act Relative to Domestic Violence was signed into law and became effective immediately. Section 10 of the Act, codified at G.L. c. 149, §52E, created new protections for an employee who is, or whose covered family member is, a victim of abusive behavior. Abusive behavior includes domestic violence, sexual assault, stalking, and kidnapping. Under the new law, employers with 50 or more employees must provide employees up to 15 days of unpaid leave in any 12-month period if the employee or covered family member of the employee is a victim of abusive behavior.

Key aspects of the law include:

- The employee may use the leave if he or she is a victim of abusive behavior and is using the leave to seek or obtain medical attention, counseling, victim services, legal assistance or to secure housing. The leave may also be used to: obtain a protective order from a court; appear in court or before a grand jury; meet with a district attorney or other law enforcement official; or attend child custody proceedings.

- Covered family members of the employee include spouse, parents, step-parents, children, step-children, siblings, grandparents, and grandchildren. Covered family members also include individuals who are in a dating or engagement relationship who reside together and persons who have a child in common regardless of whether they have ever married or resided together.

- Before seeking domestic violence leave, an employee must exhaust all vacation, personal, and sick leave unless the employer waives this requirement.

- An employee seeking domestic violence leave must provide the employer with advance notice unless there is the threat of imminent danger to the employee or the employee's family member. An employee who does not give advance notice must notify the employer within three days that the leave was domestic violence leave.

- Employers cannot retaliate or discriminate against an employee who uses domestic violence leave nor can they interfere with an employee's use of this leave.

- An employee who takes domestic violence leave cannot lose any employment benefit accrued prior to the date on which the leave was taken. Also, upon return from a domestic violence leave, the employee is entitled to be restored to his/her original job or an equivalent position.

- The employer has the sole discretion to determine whether domestic violence leave is paid or unpaid.

- With limited exceptions, the employer much keep information related to the employee's domestic violence leave confidential.

- The law will be enforced by the Massachusetts Attorney General who may seek injunctive or other equitable relief.

- An employee claiming a violation of the domestic violence leave law may institute an action against his/her employer under G.L.C. 149, §150, which provides for treble damages and attorneys' fees.

Employers with 50 or more employees must notify their employees of their rights and responsibilities under the domestic violence leave act, including those related to notification requirements and confidentiality. Employers are encouraged to amend their employee handbooks or otherwise develop a domestic violence leave policy.

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