A new law recently signed by Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick mandates that public and private employers with 50 or more employees grant up to 15 days of unpaid leave in any 12-month period if the employee or a covered family member of the employee is a victim of abusive behavior.  The bill was signed into law on August 8 and became effective immediately.  Covered employers are required to notify employees of their rights and responsibilities under the law.

Key features related to employee rights and responsibilities include the following: 1) the leave must be directly related to the abusive behavior, including, for example, seeking medical attention, counseling, victim services or legal assistance; 2) employees are required to exhaust all available leave before using the unpaid domestic violence leave, unless this requirement is waived by the employer; 3) employees cannot lose any benefits accrued prior to the leave and employees are entitled to restoration of their original job or an equivalent position; 4) employees must provide employers with advance notice of their decision to utilize the leave unless a threat of imminent danger exists; and 5) employees who fail to give advance notice of the decision to utilize leave are required to notify the employer within three workdays that the leave is being taken under the law.

Key features related to employer rights and responsibilities include the following: 1) employers cannot take any negative actions against employees with unauthorized absences if, within 30 days of the last absence, the employee submits documentation that the absence was due to domestic violence; 2) employers may require documentation showing that the employee or the employee’s family member has been a victim of abuse; and 3) employers may not retaliate or discriminate against employees for exercising their rights under the law.

The law is enforced by the Attorney General, who can seek injunctive and equitable relief against violators of the law.  Additionally, employees may bring private enforcement actions under the same enforcement provisions used to pursue private claims for violations of the Massachusetts wage and hour laws.  As a result of the passage of the new law, covered Massachusetts employers will need to develop domestic violence leave policies that comply with the law, update their employee handbooks, and educate their employees on the new leave requirements.