Employer Alert: FMLA for domestic violence victims

Last week, Rep. Lynn Woolsey (D-CA) reintroduced the Domestic Violence Leave Act, which expands paid leave options for victims of domestic abuse, sexual assault, or stalking. Details on the pending legislation and what it would mean for employers if it passes after the jump…

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Details of the Domestic Violence Leave Act

Here is a brief summary of the act, courtesy of this press release from Rep. Woolsey:

This Act expands the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) (and Title 5, Section 6382 of the United States Code for Federal workers) to provide leave for workers to address domestic violence, sexual assault, or stalking and their effects. The Act applies to domestic violence, sexual assault, or stalking of an employee, or the employee’s family member (which also includes an adult son or daughter) who is addressing those issues.

The terms ‘domestic violence,’ ‘sexual assault,’ and ‘stalking’ have the same meanings as under the Violence Against Women Act, and the term ‘domestic violence’ includes dating violence.

Under the bill, the worker can use leave in a variety of ways including seeking medical attention for injuries; seeking legal assistance or remedies, including participating in a legal proceeding; attending support groups; obtaining counseling; participating in safety planning; and any other activity necessitated by domestic violence, sexual assault or stalking.

The Act also provides that the employer must keep all evidence of domestic violence, sexual assault, or stalking in the strictest confidence, except with the consent of the employee to protect the safety of the employee or family member or to assist in documenting the domestic violence, sexual assault or stalking for a court or law enforcement agency.

As Littler’s Employment Law Update notes, the text of this bill has already been incorporated into a more extensive leave bill – the Balancing Act of 2011 (H.R. 2346).

What the Act would mean for employers, if passed.

In addition to creating FMLA protections for workers to address domestic violence, there are two particular points of which employers should take note:

  1. The certification requirements are relaxed. Under the FMLA, a company can require that any employee seeking leave for a serious health condition provide medical certification from a physician. Not so under the Domestic Violence Leave Act. It provides that, in the absence of documentation from a third party of corroborating evidence, a worker can meet the certification requirements by providing a written statement describing the situation.
  2. The Domestic Violence Leave Act extends the protections of the FMLA (and Title 5 for federal employees) to “domestic partners,” “same-sex spouses,” and “children of a domestic partner.”
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