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Need to take time off from work to deal with domestic violence?

Produced by Greater Boston Legal Services
Reviewed March 2022

Under Massachusetts laws concerning domestic violence, some employers must let you take time off from work if you or a family member has to deal with:

In this article we use the word “abuse” to refer to all 3 kinds of abuse.

Taking time off from work is called “leave.” You have the right to take leave from work to:

  • look for medical care, counseling, victim services or legal assistance;
  • get medical care, counseling, victim services or legal assistance;
  • look for and 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 abusive behavior against you or a member of your family.

If you need to take time off, your employer may not fire you, lay you off, or discriminate against you.

If you take time off from work:

  • Your employer may not take away any employee benefits you have earned, like child care, health insurance, comp time, or retirement plan.
  • You have the right to keep your job, when you return to work. Or, your employer may give you another job, if it is same kind you had before you took the time off.

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

Which employers must let me take time off?

Employers with 50 or more employees. 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

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.

Do employers have to let abusers take time off too?

No. 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.

Does my employer have to pay me?

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

If you have not 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 have an emergency and your health or safety is in immediate danger, you do not have to give advance notice. Also, if the health or safety of your family member is in immediate danger, you do not have to give your employer advance notice that you are taking time off.

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, and
  • legal advocates.

Can my employer require documentation?

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

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 was dealing with abuse. The letter must be on court, provider, or public agency letterhead.
  • 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 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, 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 provide documentation of

  • an arrest,
  • a conviction, or
  • law enforcement documentation, like a police report of the abusive behavior.

If it was an emergency how much time do I have to give my employer the documentation?

30 days.

If you had to take time off from work and you could not give your employer advance notice, you have 30 days to give your employer the documentation they require.

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.

Is my information about taking time off from work because of 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 employee leave first?

Yes.  Before you can take time off from work because of abuse under this law, 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 my employer tell me that I cannot have the time off if I am in contact with the abusive person?

No. Your employer cannot tell you what to do about the abusive person.

What is “abuse?”

Abuse is:

  • Hurting you or your child physically,
  • Trying to hurt you or your child physically,
  • Threatening to seriously hurt you or your child physically,
  • Physically forcing you to have sex,
  • Threatening or pressuring you so that feel you must have sex,
  • Having sex with your child,
  • Threatening to have sex with your child,
  • “Mental abuse” like intimidating, threatening, or terrorizing you;
  • Keeping you from getting medical care, housing, food, or other necessities of life;
  • “Restraining your liberty,” like stopping you from spending your own money, seeing your friends or family, or going about your business.

What is “abusive behavior?”

Abusive behavior is

What is “domestic violence?”

Domestic violence is abuse against:

  • you, or
  • a member of your family


  • your current or former spouse,
  • your family member’s current or former spouse,
  • the other parent of your child,
  • the other parent of a family member’s child,
  • someone you live with or you used to live with,
  • someone your family member lives with or used to live with,
  • someone related to you by blood or marriage, or
  • someone you or your family member
    • dates or used to date or
    • is engaged to or was engaged to.

Who counts as my family member?

Your “family member” can be:

  • Your spouse,
  • Your boyfriend or girlfriend if you are living together,
  • Your fiancé or fiancée if you are living together,
  • The other parent of your child. You do not have to have ever lived with that parent,
  • Your parent, step-parent, child, step-child, brother, sister, grandparent or grandchild, or
  • Your guardian or someone you are guardian of.

Who to call for help

Find Legal Aid

You may be able to get free legal help from your local legal aid program. Or email a question about your own legal problem to a lawyer.

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