Missouri employers with at least 20 employees must now provide unpaid leave and certain safety accommodations to victims of domestic or sexual violence under a new law, the Victims Economic Safety and Security Act, which took effect on August 28. In addition, employers must provide notice of the law’s provisions to employees by October 27.
Here is a summary of the key provisions:
Covered employers and eligible employees
The law applies to all employers in Missouri with at least 20 employees.
Employees working for a covered employer are entitled to unpaid leave if they (1) are a victim of domestic or sexual violence, or (2) have a family or household member who is a victim of domestic or sexual violence. The VESSA defines “family or household member” to include spouses, parents, children, “person[s] related by blood or by present or prior marriage,” “person[s] who share a relationship through a son or daughter,” and persons residing in the same household.
The length of the required leave period provided by the employer depends on the number of the employer’s employees, as follows:
1 – 19 Employees
20 – 49 Employees
One week per year
50 + Employees
Two weeks per year
Employees entitled to VESSA leave may use their allotted time intermittently or on a reduced-work schedule. However, an employee may not take VESSA leave if it would result in more leave than the amount permitted under the federal Family and Medical Leave Act.
It is important to note that the VESSA defines a “workweek” as an employee’s “standard workweek.” Therefore, the number of days to which an eligible employee is entitled will vary according to the specific employee’s standard workweek.
There is no requirement that the leave provided under the VESSA be paid.
Qualifying reasons for leave
Eligible employees can request VESSA leave to do any of the following:
Seek medical attention for, or recover from, physical or psychological injuries caused by domestic or sexual violence against the employee or the employee’s family or household member.
Obtain victim services for the employee or the employee’s family or household member.
Obtain psychological or other counseling for the employee or the employee’s family or household member.
Participate in safety planning, including temporary or permanent relocation, or other actions to increase the employee or the employee’s family or household member’s safety from future domestic or sexual violence.
Seek legal assistance to ensure the health and safety of the employee or the employee’s family or household member, including participating in court proceedings related to the violence.
Upon returning from leave, an employee must be returned to the same or an equivalent position and must not lose accrued benefits or health coverage while on leave.
Notice and documentation for leave
Employers may require eligible employees to provide 48 hours’ notice of their intent to take leave under the VESSA unless it would be impractical under the circumstances.
Employers may also require eligible employees to provide certification of the need for leave. Employees may satisfy the certification requirement with a sworn statement from the employee plus certain other documentation, such as (1) documentation from an employee, agent or volunteer of a victim services organization, attorney, member of the clergy, or medical or other professional who provided assistance to the employee or the employee’s family or household member; (2) a police or court record; or (3) other corroborating evidence.
While an employee is on leave, employers may require periodic reports about the employee’s intent to return to work. Employers must maintain any collected documentation “in the strictest of confidence.”
Eligible employees under the VESSA are entitled to reasonable safety accommodations from private employers and public agencies for “known limitations resulting from circumstances relating to being a victim of domestic or sexual violence or being a family or household member of a victim of domestic or sexual violence.”
Reasonable accommodation is defined as “an adjustment to a job structure, workplace facility, or work requirement, including a transfer, reassignment, modified schedule, leave, a changed telephone number or seating assignment, installation of a lock, implementation of a safety procedure, or assistance in documenting domestic violence that occurs at the workplace or in work-related settings, in response to actual or threatened domestic violence.”
Undue hardship to the employer
Employers must provide reasonable safety accommodations “within a timely manner” unless doing so would impose an undue hardship. An accommodation imposes an undue hardship when it causes the employer significant difficulty or expense in light of the nature and cost of the accommodation.
Notice to employees
As already noted, employers must notify employees of their rights under the VESSA by October 27. Employers must also post a notice summarizing VESSA rights. After October 27, newly hired employees must receive notice of VESSA rights at the time that their employment begins.
The VESSA grants employees the right to take leave free from discrimination or retaliation as it relates to pay, position, benefits, and other terms and conditions of employment.
The VESSA will be enforced by the Missouri Department of Labor. Penalties for non-compliance are not clear at this time.
Next steps for employers
Policies: Employers should update their employee handbooks to include a VESSA leave policy and prepare the forms necessary for employees to request VESSA leave.
Training: Employers should train managers, supervisors, and Human Resources staff to recognize and respond to requests for VESSA leave.
Notification: Employers should be prepared to issue the required notice to employees by October 27, and then to notify new hires on an ongoing basis.
If you have any questions about the new law, or need help drafting a VESSA policy, forms, or notice, please contact your Constangy attorney.
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