Federal Protections for Victims of Domestic Violence Proposed in US House and Senate

Posted on: November 9, 2017 0

By Marti Cardi, VP-Product Compliance & Gail Cohen, Director-Employment Law/Compliance

Identical bills that propose significant leave of absence rights and job protections for victims of domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, and stalking were introduced simultaneously in the US Senate and House of Representatives on October 31, 2017.  If passed, the bills (S 2043 and H 4198) will require employers to provide up to 30 days of job protected and partially paid “Safe Leave” for victims – referred to as “survivors” – of these abusive personal crimes.

Startling statistics.  The bills provide some eye-opening Congressional findings regarding the impacts of these crimes:

  • Studies indicate that one of the best predictors of whether a survivor will be able to stay
    away from his or her abuser is the degree of his or her economic independence. However,
    domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, and stalking often negatively impact
    a survivor’s ability to maintain employment.
  • Survivors of severe intimate partner violence lose nearly 8,000,000 days of paid work,
    which is the equivalent of more than 32,000 full-time jobs and almost 5,600,000 days
    of household productivity each year.
  • Nearly 1 in 4 women and 1 in 9 men in the United States have suffered sexual violence,
    physical violence, or stalking by an intimate partner.
  • Annual costs of intimate partner violence are estimated to be more than $8,300,000,000
    in direct costs of medical and mental health care and indirect costs of lost productivity.

Based on these statistics and more, the goal of the bills is “to empower survivors of domestic violence,
dating violence, sexual assault, or stalking to be free from violence, hardship, and control, which
restrains basic human rights to freedom and safety in the United States.”

Several states have similar laws for the protection of victims of such personal crimes, although none of them contain pay provisions.  The passage of the most recent of such laws in Nevada prompted our prior blog post on these leave laws, in which we summarized the Nevada law and identified other states with similar laws:  Leave rights for victims of domestic violence:  Growing need, multi-state trend.

Summary of the bills’ provisions.  Here is a rundown of the key provisions of the two bills.  Several key
attributes of the leave rights are not specified in the bills, as noted below.  We would expect that, if passed,
the Department of Labor regulations authorized by the bills would clarify these points.

Keep in mind that these were just introduced and are likely to go through changes as they are considered
by both houses.  We will be watching their legislative journey and will report any updates on this blog.

ISSUE PROVISION
Eligible employees All employees – no eligibility requirements such as length of service or hours worked.

Includes full-time, part-time, and temporary employees.

Covered employers Employers with 15 or more employees.
Persons entitled to leave – “survivor” Employee who, personally or whose family or
household member, is experiencing or has experienced:

  • Domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault,
    or stalking (“abuse”) (as those terms are defined
    in § 40002 of the Violence Against Women
    Act of 1994 (34 U.S.C. § 12291)).

Collectively referred to as a “survivor.”

“Family or household member” Defined as:

  • A son or daughter, parent, spouse, domestic
    partner, or any other individual related by
    blood or affinity whose close association with
    the person is the equivalent of a family
    relationship; and
  • Is not the abuser involved.
Leave reasons Leave can be used for the following activities related to the abuse, for the employee or the family or household member:

Seek medical attention;

  • to obtain services from a survivor
    services organization;
  • to obtain behavioral health services
    or counseling;
  • to participate in safety planning,
    temporary or permanent relocation,
    or taking other actions, to increase safety; or
  • to take legal action, including preparing
    for or participating in a civil or criminal
    legal proceeding.
Amount of “Safe Leave” 30 days in a 12-month period.

COMMENT:  The bills do not specify whether
the 30 days are work days or calendar days,
which could result in either 6 weeks or 4.3
weeks of leave respectively.  The most likely
interpretation is 30 work days, but we will
watch for clarification.

Leave year calculation method Not specified.

COMMENT:  The applicable 12-month period for 30 days
of leave is not defined.  FMLA permits 4 methods
(calendar year, fixed year, measured forward, rolling back).

Leave usage methods Not specified.

COMMENT:  The FMLA allows usage as a continuous/ block
leave, as a reduced schedule, and as intermittent periods
of leave of varying increments.

Pay provisions
  • Employees will accrue up to 56 hours of paid
    Safe Leave at an accrual rate of 1 hour of paid
    leave per 30 hours worked.
  • Exempt employees (those not subject to
    overtime pay requirements) are assumed to
    work 40 hours per week for accrual purposes;
    if they normally work a shorter week, the hours
    worked in that normal shorter week are used for accrual.
  • Accrual and carryover are maxed at 56 hours
    of paid leave.
  • Employees start accruing paid Safe Leave upon
    hire, but cannot use accrued time until the 60th
    calendar day of employment.
  • Accrued paid leave used by the employee
    counts toward the total 30 days per 12 months
    of Safe Leave
Employee request for Save Leave
  • Must be provided to the employer orally or in
    writing as soon as practicable after the employer
    is aware of the need for leave; and
  • Must inform the employer of the expected
    duration of the leave [and, presumably, the dates].
  • The employee must schedule the requested
    leave at a time that does not unduly disrupt the
    employer’s operations, unless such scheduling
    is not practicable.
Documentation
  • The employer can require documentation
    from the employee to support the leave.
  • Several types of documentation
    are acceptable, including a police
    report, court order, sworn statement
    from the employee or family/household
    member, documentation from an
    attorney or medical professional, and more.
  • The employer cannot specify the type of
    documentation that is acceptable for the
    requested leave.
  • The employee must submit documentation
    within 30 days of the first date of Safe Leave,
    but an employer cannot deny leave while
    awaiting documentation.
Employer notice to employees None required.

COMMENT:  The bills do not require any form of
notice to employees, either in general such as
posting or with respect to a specific Safe Leave request.

Job protection An employee must be reinstated to the same
or an equivalent job upon return to work from
Safe Leave.
Benefits Employers must maintain employees’ coverage
under any group health plan or employee welfare
benefit plan during Save Leave.
Interaction with FMLA Safe Leave under the proposed laws will be
“in addition to any leave taken (directly or indirectly)”
under the FMLA, not to exceed 30 days in
a 12-month period.

COMMENTS:

  • The bills are not clear whether leave for a
    reason that qualifies under both FMLA and
    these bills (e.g., leave for a serious health
    condition of the employee or a family member
    that results from domestic abuse) would count
    toward both.
  • It does appear that this leave is in addition to
    leave taken under the FMLA for reasons not
    covered by the Safe Leave law – not just
    additional leave reasons under the existing
    FMLA 12 week entitlement.
Interaction with other leave laws or employer policies An employee may substitute other leave available
pursuant to state or local law, a collective bargaining
agreement, or an employer program or plan for an
equivalent period of Safe Leave.
Other provisions The bills are quite detailed.  At present some additional provisions include:

  • Prohibitions against discrimination, retaliation,
    and interference with rights.
  • Federal and state entitlement to unemployment
    compensation when an employee is separated
    from employment due to circumstances related
    to being a survivor of domestic violence, dating
    violence, sexual assault, or stalking.
  • Key employee provision enabling employers
    to deny job restoration to certain employees
    in limited circumstances, similar to FMLA.
  • Enforcement by the DOL and by the employee,
    including civil actions.
  • The “Survivors’ Employment Sustainability Act,”
    which protects employees and applicants from
    discrimination, harassment, and retaliation based
    on the individual’s status as a survivor of domestic
    violence and other personal abuse (including a
    survivor of an unauthorized communication of an
    intimate image of the individual).
  • Prohibitions against insurers and employers
    who self-insure employee benefits from
    discriminating against survivors of domestic violence,
    dating violence, sexual assault, or stalking and
    those who help them in determining eligibility,
    rates charged, and standards for payment of claims.

 

MATRIX CAN HELP!  Matrix provides leave, disability, and accommodation management services to employers seeking a comprehensive and compliant solution to these complex employer obligations. We monitor the many leave laws being passed around the country and specialize in understanding how they work together. For leave management and accommodation assistance, contact us at ping@matrixcos.com.

Rhode Island Joins the Paid Sick and Safe Leave Bandwagon

Posted on: October 5, 2017 0

By Marti Cardi, VP-Product Compliance
& Gail Cohen, Director-Employment Law/Compliance

Rhode Island has joined the plethora of states that have passed paid sick and safe leave legislation for the state’s workers. The Rhode Island “Healthy and Safe Families Workplace Act” (H5413/S290) was signed into law by the Governor on September 28, 2017.

The basics. Effective July 1, 2018, Rhode Island employees of an employer with 18 or more employees in Rhode Island will earn one hour of paid leave time for every 35 hours worked, up to a maximum of 24 hours of accrued paid sick and safe leave in 2018, 32 hours in 2019, and 40 hours in 2020 and thereafter. Employees can carry over any unused, accrued paid time; however, the use of such time is still subject to the maximums (i.e. 24 hours in 2018, etc.). Accrued but unused sick and safe time is not payable to the employee upon termination.

Employees begin to accrue leave as of July 1, 2018, or their date of hire, whichever is later. While employees can begin to earn and accrue leave, employers can impose a waiting period of up to 90 days for new hires before they can take any accrued time. Temporary employees must wait up to 180 days to use any accrued leave (unless the employer agrees otherwise).

Leave reasons.  Employees may use sick and safe leave for any of the following reasons:

  • The employee’s own mental or physical illness, injury, or health condition; need for preventive care, diagnosis,
    or treatment of a mental or physical illness, injury, or health condition.
  • Care of a family member for the same reasons as the employee’s own needs.
  • When an employer’s business or the employee’s child’s childcare facility or school is closed
    due to a public health emergency.
  • When the employee or his or her family is a victim of domestic violence, sexual assault or stalking.

Covered relationships. “Family member” is broadly defined under the Act to include: child (biological, adopted, or foster son or daughter, a stepson or stepdaughter, a legal ward, a son or daughter of a domestic partner, or a son or daughter of an employee who stands in loco parentis to that child), parent, spouse or domestic partner, parent-in-law, grandparent, grandchild, sibling, care recipient, or member of the employee’s household. A “care recipient” is a person for whom the employee is responsible for providing or arranging health or safety related care.


Employee notice and documentation.
Employees are required to provide notice (in the means designated by the employer in its policy) where the need for leave is foreseeable. Employer may also require documentation (again, as long as the employer has a policy that says so) for leaves of 3 or more consecutive work days. The documentation requirement is quite limited and only allows for documentation that the leave is for a permissible purpose. The employer may not require documentation regarding the nature of the illness or details of the domestic violence, sexual assault or stalking.


Permitted employee discipline.
This Act also incorporates a few safeguards for employers:

  • An employer may discipline, up to and including termination of employment, an employee who is committing
    fraud or abuse by engaging in an activity that is not consistent with an allowable purpose for paid sick and
    safe leave;
  • An employer may also discipline an employee (again up to termination) who exhibits a clear pattern of taking
    leave just before or after a weekend, vacation, or holiday if the employee is unable to provide reasonable
    documentation that the leave has been taken for a permissible purpose.

 

Pings for Employers with Rhode Island Workers:

 Ensure that your pay practices are in order and ready to provide for the necessary accruals and usage accounting starting July 1, 2018

Draft a clear policy governing Rhode Island paid sick and safe leave. At a minimum, be sure to specify the means by which employees must give notice of the need for Rhode Island paid sick and safe leave (e.g., by email, other written request, verbal to supervisor, a call-in line, etc.) and your documentation requirements within the parameters of the law. Be sure your employees know about these policies by special notice, new hire notice, including in your employee handbook, and/or posting in areas in which workers congregate like lunch or break rooms.