Employees of large companies who experience domestic violence, either directly or through family members, now enjoy greater legal protection as the recently enacted domestic violence protection law enters its first full year. The new law, which took effect last August, requires employers of 50 or more workers to provide up to 15 days of leave annually to allow employees to address domestic violence issues.
To qualify for this benefit, employees must first use all vacation, personal or sick leave available to them to cover a domestic violence-related absence. They must provide advance notice of their absences, though they can avoid this requirement when a threat of imminent danger exists. Domestic violence leave can be used when three conditions are met: a situation of domestic violence exists, as defined by the statute; the leave is used to address the effects of the violence; and the employee is not the perpetrator of the domestic violence. Leave can be paid or unpaid, in employers’ discretion.
Retaliating against or otherwise punishing employees who take advantage of their newly acquired rights is, of course, against the law, which will be enforced by the Attorney General’s office. Employees will have the right to bring private suits for violations. Penalties may include three times the amount of wages lost as the result of violations and awards of legal fees to prevailing employees. The new law is codified at Mass. Gen. L. ch. 149, §52E.
Though the statute benefits only employees of large companies, relief for workers at smaller ones is on the horizon. Under the sick leave law that will take effect July 1, 2015, all Massachusetts employees will be allowed to take up to 40 hours of sick leave annually. Addressing the effects of domestic violence is one purpose for which sick leave may be used.