Domestic Violence under Massachusetts Law: Massachusetts Establishes New Category of Job Protected Leave

By Leigh C. Tinmouth

On August 8, 2014, Governor Deval Patrick signed into law a bill relating to domestic violence that, among other things, establishes a new category of job-protected leave for employees (the “Law”).  Effective immediately, Massachusetts employers with fifty (50) or more employees must permit employees to take up to fifteen (15) days of unpaid leave per year if they or their family members are the victims of “abusive behavior,” which includes domestic violence, stalking, sexual assault, and kidnapping.  

Employees may use this leave only to address “issues directly related” to abusive behavior (such as the need to obtain medical attention, counseling, or legal advice) and are obligated to exhaust any accrued vacation, personal, or sick leave before requesting or taking leave under the Law.  Employers may require employees to provide documentation demonstrating that they or their family members have been subjected to abusive behavior (as defined) and that the leave taken is directly related to such behavior.  Satisfactory documentation may include protective orders, police reports, witness statements, documentation of medical treatment, or sworn statements from the employee or counselors who assisted in addressing the effects of the abusive behavior.  Importantly, employers are prohibited under the Law from taking any adverse action against an employee who takes unauthorized absences from work when the employee provides satisfactory documentation within thirty (30) days following such absences.

Under the Law, employers are prohibited from interfering with employees’ exercise of their right to take abusive behavior leave, and from discriminating against employees who take such leave.  Aggrieved employees may sue their employers for violations of the Law and may seek injunctive relief, lost wages, and other damages.  Because the Law incorporates the civil enforcement scheme of the Massachusetts Wage Act by reference, prevailing employees are entitled to treble damages and attorneys’ fees.

Finally, employers must notify employees of their “rights and responsibilities” under the Law.  Employers are advised to comply with this requirement by amending their employee handbooks to include policies regarding abusive behavior leave.