Can I take time off from work to deal with domestic violence?

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Under Massachusetts laws, employers with 50 or more employees must let you take time off from work if you or a family member has to deal with:

  • abuse,
  • abusive behavior, or
  • domestic violence.

If your company has less than 50 employees, you may be able to use other time off, like earned sick time or paid medical leave.

What things am I allowed to take time off from work for?

Taking time off from work is called “leave.” If you are dealing with domestic abuse, you have the right to take leave from work to:

  • look for medical care, counseling, victim services or legal help;
  • get medical care, counseling, victim services or legal help;
  • look for or move into new housing;
  • get a protective order from court;
  • go to court;
  • appear before a grand jury;
  • meet with a district attorney, the police, or other law enforcement official;
  • attend child custody proceedings; or
  • deal with other issues directly related to the abuse against you or a member of your family.

Abusers do not have a right to take time off. Their employers do not have to give them time off so they can deal with the results of being abusive.

How much time can I take off?

Your employer must let you take up to 15 days off from work in any 12 month period.

What rights do I have when I take time off from work due to domestic violence?

If you take time off from work to deal with domestic abuse, your employer cannot:

  • Fire you or lay you off;
  • Discriminate against you;
  • Punish you;
  • Take away any employee benefits you have earned, like childcare, health insurance, comp time, or a retirement plan; or
  • Tell you that you cannot have the time off if you are in contact with the abusive person. Your employer cannot tell you what to do about the abusive person.

You have the right to keep your job when you return to work. Or, your employer may give you another job if it is the same kind you had before you took the time off.

If your employer breaks these laws, you can contact the Massachusetts Attorney General. The Attorney General can take your employer to court.

Does my employer have to pay me during this time off?

If you have earned sick time and you want to use that sick time for time off, your employer must pay you.

If you haven’t earned sick time, your employer has a choice. They may pay you for the time you take off from work. But they do not have to.

See the Attorney General's flyer about earned sick time.

Do I have to let my employer know in advance if I am going to take time off?

Yes. You need to follow your employer’s regular policy about advance notice for taking time off from work.

What if it is an emergency?

If you or a family member’s health or safety is in immediate danger, you do not have to give advance notice.

But, you must let your employer know within 3 workdays that the time you took off from work was to deal with abuse. You, yourself, do not have to tell your employer. A family member or a professional who has helped you deal with the abuse can let the employer know. Professionals who have helped you can be:

  • counselors,
  • social workers,
  • health care workers,
  • members of the clergy,
  • shelter workers, or
  • legal advocates.

Your employer can only take action against you if you:

  • took emergency time off, and
  • gave no advance notice, and
  • did not give them the documentation they asked for within 30 days of the last day you were off.
Can my employer ask for documentation or proof?

Yes. Your employer can require you to show documentation that:

  • you or a family member were a victim of abuse or abusive behavior;
  • you need to take time off from work for one of the reasons listed above; and
  • you are not the abuser.

What kind of documentation must my employer accept?

If your employer tells you they need documentation of the abuse to you or your family member, you only need to give them 1 of the following:

  • A protective order, restraining order, or other court documentation.
  • A letter that says you asked for help from the court, a provider or public agency because you or a family member were dealing with abuse. The letter must be on the letterhead of the court, provider, or public agency.
  • A police report or a police incident report.
  • A statement you or a witness made to the police that describes the abuse.
  • Documentation that the abuse you are taking time off to deal with is from an abuser who has:
    • “admitted to sufficient facts to support a finding of guilt” of abusive behavior; been convicted of “abusive behavior; ”this document has been “adjudicated a juvenile delinquent” because of “abusive behavior.”
  • Documentation that you got medical treatment because of the abuse.
  • A “sworn statement” signed by a counselor, social worker, health care worker, member of the clergy (religious leader), shelter worker, legal advocate, or other professional who has helped you or your family member deal with the effects of the abusive behavior. This statement needs to say, “signed under penalties of perjury.”
  • Your sworn statement, that says you are a victim of abusive behavior. You need to sign the statement and it needs to say, “signed under penalties of perjury.”

Your employer cannot keep the documentation very long. After they decide if you are eligible for the time off, they must give the documentation back to you or destroy it.

Your employer cannot require you to show documentation of:

  • an arrest,
  • a conviction, or
  • law enforcement documentation, like a police report of the abusive behavior.
Is my information about the abuse confidential?

Your employer must keep confidential everything you have shared with them about taking leave because of abuse. They can only share the information with anyone else if:

  • you ask or agree in writing;
  • a court orders it;
  • state or federal law requires it;
  • law enforcement, including the attorney general, needs it for an investigation; or
  • it is necessary to protect your safety or the safety of other employees at the workplace.
Do I have to use up other earned time off first?

Yes. Before you can take time off from work because of abuse, your employer has the right to make you use up all your available leave first. This includes:

  • annual leave,
  • vacation,
  • personal time off, and
  • sick leave.

But, your employer does not have to require you to use up other leave first.

Can I get Unemployment Insurance if I left my job because of domestic violence?

Yes. You can get Unemployment Insurance in Massachusetts if:

  • You had to leave your job because of domestic violence, or
  • You were fired because of circumstances resulting from domestic violence

You need to show that you are ready and able for work. But, you only need to look for or take work that lets you address the effects of domestic violence. The effects can be physical, psychological, or legal.

If you are denied benefits, you generally need to appeal the decision within 10 days. But, you may have 30 days to appeal the decision if you have a good reason for a late appeal. DUA calls this “good cause.”

To learn more, see the video Unemployment insurance for survivors of domestic violence.

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Who to call for help with domestic violence
DV - Who to call for help

Call 911 if you are in danger right now.

If you are not in immediate danger, you can contact:

See Jane Doe's list of Massachusetts domestic violence programs and court resources for safety and support.

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