On August 8, 2014, Governor Deval Patrick signed into law legislation, which was effective immediately regarding domestic violence leave for employees. The new law impacts both public and private employers with 50 or more employees. Employees impacted by domestic violence are now allowed to take up to 15 days of leave in any 12 month period so long as certain criteria are met.

In order to be eligible to take leave, the employee, or a family member of the employee, must be a victim of abusive behavior. Covered family members include spouses, persons who are dating or engaged and cohabitating, persons having a child in common, parents, children, or a person in a guardianship relationship. The new law also defines abusive behavior as domestic violence, stalking, sexual assault, or kidnapping.

Leave may only be used by the employee in a number of circumstances, including to seek or obtain medical attention, counseling, victim services, various legal proceedings, and to address other issues directly related to the abusive behavior. Employees must have exhausted all personal, vacation and sick leave prior to requesting leave under this law. The employee requesting leave cannot be the perpetrator of the abusive behavior against such employee’s family member.

The new law states that the leave may be paid or unpaid, however the law gives sole discretion to the employer to make that decision. Except in cases of imminent danger to the health or safety of an employee, advance notice of the leave must be given by the employee. Employers may also require that the employee provide proper documentation verifying that the employee or their family member was a victim of abusive behavior. All information related to the employee’s leave must be kept confidential by the employer, except in certain instances provided for by the new law.

Employers with 50 or more employees must now notify each employee of the rights and responsibilities provided for by this new law. To satisfy the notice requirement, employers may need to update handbooks, develop and circulate the new leave policy, or perhaps train HR professionals.

If you have any questions regarding the above, or any other Massachusetts employment or business law matter, please contact one of the employment or business attorneys at Doherty, Ciechanowski, Dugan & Cannon, P.C.