New laws provide employer guidelines to help victims of domestic violence

By H. Clifford Watkin, SPHR

In September, the issue of domestic violence – and how employers should respond in such cases – exploded in the national media and into the public consciousness.

On September 8, star running back Ray Rice was released by his employer, the Baltimore Ravens, and indefinitely suspended by the NFL after a second video surfaced of his February assault on his then-fiancée (and now wife) Janay Rice.
A few days later, Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson was deactivated by his team after being indicted for abusing his four year-old son.

Fortunately several states, including Massachusetts, are beginning to institute laws regarding how victims of domestic violence should be treated in the workplace, and are establishing guidelines for their recovery leave.

On August 8, 2014, Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick passed “An Act Relative to Domestic Violence” (ARDV). The new law requires all employers who have over 50 employees to grant up to 15 days of leave per 12-month period to an employee who is a victim – or whose immediate family member is a victim – of domestic violence, stalking, kidnapping, or sexual assault. The ARDV does not apply to the aggressor; it only applies to the victim of the attack.

The decision about whether the time away is a paid or unpaid leave is solely at the discretion of the employer. In addition, the employer can require the individual to use all other available forms of leave first.

An employee who requests a Domestic Violence Leave must use the leave time to focus on issues directly relating to the abuse. This includes activities such as seeking different housing, legal or law enforcement assistance, medical attention, or counseling. Under the ARDV, employers can require supporting documentation for an employee’s domestic violence leave request. Court documents, police reports, or medical documents are examples of sufficient supporting documentation.

If possible, the employee must provide his/her employer with appropriate notice of ARDV leave. There is an exception to this if the victim is facing immediate risks to his or her well-being. If this is the case, the victim, a family member, or a creditable medical professional has three business days to inform the employer that the time off was a result of domestic violence.

It is important to note that here in Massachusetts, employees who use the ARDV leave law are also legally covered under the state’s anti-retaliation law. They may not be terminated, receive reduced employment benefits, and may not be penalized for the leave time so long as the employee provides the supporting documentation of the domestic violence within 30 days of returning to work.

Once the employee returns to work, the individual is entitled to return to the same or comparable position within the company. In addition, the employer must keep all information about the employee’s domestic violence leave strictly confidential.

Employers are required to notify employees of their rights under the ARDV. An efficient way to do this is by sending a notice of the new law and its provisions to employees or by making revisions to the company’s leave policies. A difficult question that lingers for employers is whether or not to terminate an employee who is involved in domestic violence.

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H. Clifford Watkin is Managing Partner of Ipswich Bay Advisors in Danvers, MA, and has over 25 years of experience in human resources and employees benefits consulting. He can be reached by phone at (978)-777-6554 or by e-mail at cwatkin@ipswichfinancial.com.