While the legislative session was a relatively quiet one, a few provisions found in a comprehensive domestic violence bill do have some direct implications for employers in Connecticut and create a new leave provision that will require some attention from human resources personnel.  Many employers will be unaffected by the provisions, but those who have employees caught up in family violence will be affected.    

Unlike the Connecticut FMLA and federal FMLA, this bill is much broader because these provisions will apply to all employers with three or more employees.

The full text of H.B. 5497 is available here.  The key provisions are Sections 14 and 15.  Although the bill has yet to be signed by the Governor, such approval is expected.  When signed the provisions become effective October 1, 2010.

First, the bill amends Conn. Gen. Stat. 54-85b which already provided the crime victims or witnesses could take time off to comply with a subpoena or police investigation or otherwise participate in a court proceeding.  

The new law prohibits an employer from terminating, penalizing, threatening, or otherwise coercing an employee with respect to his or her employment because the employee (1) is a family violence victim or (2) attends or participates in a civil court proceeding related to a case in which he or she is a family violence victim. The bill doubles, from 90 to 180 days, the time an employee has to bring a civil action against an employer who takes any of these actions.

Second, the bill requires employers to allow family violence victims to take paid or unpaid leave (including compensatory time, vacation time, personal days, or other time off) during any calendar year in which the leave is reasonably necessary for the following reasons:

  1. seek medical care or counseling for physical or psychological injury or disability,
  2. obtain services from a victim services organization,
  3. relocate due to the family violence, or
  4. participate in any civil or criminal proceeding related to or resulting from such family violence.

The bill allows an employer to limit unpaid leave taken under the bill’s provisions to 12 days per calendar year. However, it specifies that this leave does not affect any other leave provided under state or federal law.

It allows employers to require no more than seven days notice when the need to use leave is foreseeable and notice as soon as practicable when it is not.

The bill requires an employee who takes this leave, on request, to provide the employer with a signed written statement certifying that the leave is for a purpose authorized under the bill.

The bill allows an employer to request from the employee a (1) police or court record related to the family violence or (2) signed written statement that the employee is a victim of family violence from the employee or an agent of a victim services organization, an attorney, an employee of the Judicial Branch’s Office of Victim Services or the Office of the Victim Advocate, licensed medical professional, or other licensed professional from whom the employee has sought assistance with respect to the family violence. The bill requires the employer to keep any written statement or police or court record provided confidential. The employer cannot further disclose the information except as required by law or as necessary to protect the employee’s safety in the workplace, but in these situations the employee must be given notice before the disclosure.

Additionally, the bill specifies that it cannot be construed to require an employer to provide paid leave if (1) the employee is not entitled to paid leave pursuant to the terms and conditions of the employee’s employment or (2) the paid leave exceeds the maximum amount of leave due the employee during any calendar year. However, the bill requires the employer to provide unpaid leave if paid leave is exhausted or not provided.

The bill imposes the same penalty for violations as exists for violations of the laws protecting crime victims. That is, the employee has 180 days from the occurrence to bring a civil action for damages and for an order requiring the employee’s reinstatement or otherwise rescinding such action. If the employee prevails, the employee must be allowed a reasonable attorney’s fee that is fixed by the court.

A comprehensive summary (from which some of these provisions are lifted) of the entire bill is available here.  

What should employers do now? You will certainly need to amend your policies and procedures at some point later this year to address this new law.  How that provision will be crafted remains to be seen, but certain some human resource organizations and law firms may develop some model drafts that will be circulated. Stay current on these developments over the summer.