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Opinion: Ruling requires employer accommodations for domestic, sexual assault survivors

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 A new law that went into effect on Aug. 28 affects businesses with 20 or more employees.

These employers must provide unpaid leave and safety accommodations to an associate if they, or one or more of their family or household members, are victims of domestic violence or sexual abuse. In addition, the company must ensure there is no retaliation against them for exerting these rights under Missouri’s Victims Economic Safety and Security Act.

Businesses with 20-49 Missouri laborers must grant up to one workweek of unpaid leave per 12-month period, and those with 50 or more employees must provide up to two workweeks under this new ruling. The workweek is based upon the standard workweek for the team member. Accordingly, the precise number of days an employee is eligible to receive will depend upon their specific standard workweek. For organizations mandated to comply with the Family and Medical Leave Act, VESSA does not add to the 12 weeks required under FMLA. VESSA leave may be taken all at once, intermittently or on a reduced work schedule. A worker must furnish at least 48 hours of advance notice to take leave, unless providing notice is not possible.

A victim may seek job-protected leave for a qualifying reason for themself or a family or household member for five reasons: No. 1, if the person is pursuing medical care for, or convalescing from, physical or psychological harm due to the violence; No. 2, if the individual is acquiring assistance from a victim services organization; No. 3, for receiving psychological counseling; No. 4, if the individual is engaging in safety planning, temporary or permanent relocation, or other activities to ensure economic security or heighten safety from future domestic or sexual violence; and No. 5, if the person is obtaining legal support or remedies to ensure health and safety, including preparing for or participating in a civil or criminal proceeding regarding domestic or sexual violence.

The definition of family or household member consists of “a spouse, parent, son, daughter, other person related by blood or by present or prior marriage, other person who shares a relationship through a son or daughter, and persons jointly residing in the same household,” according to the law.

The corporation may require the staff member to periodically communicate status updates and intention to return to work. They may not lose any employment benefit accrued prior to the leave start date. The firm must continue a group health plan during the leave and restore them to their job after the leave. If they do not return to work following the leave, the establishment is able to recover the premium paid to maintain the group health insurance during the leave.

An employer may require the employee to provide certification that the leave is for one of the qualifying reasons and they or their family or household member is a victim of domestic or sexual violence. The law states the individual must supply the information within a reasonable period after receiving the request. The certification should include a sworn statement and include at least one of the following: police or court record; other corroborating evidence or documentation from an attorney, clergy member, medical or other professional aiding them or their family or household member to address the domestic or sexual violence and the effects of such violence; or an employee, agent or volunteer of a victim services organization. All information must be kept in the strictest confidence.

Timely safety accommodations must be furnished to the laborer, unless the accommodation will cause undue hardship to the business. Employers are required to examine any pressing conditions or danger facing the worker or their family or household member when deciding if the accommodation is reasonable.

Accommodations might consist of time off, altered scheduling, lock installation, a new phone number or seating assignment, safety procedure implementation, or altering a job structure, workplace facility or work requirement, including transfer or reassignment.

An additional option is assistance in documenting domestic violence happening at the workplace or in work-related settings due to genuine or threatened domestic violence. A firm may require written documentation signed by the staff member, or an individual acting on their behalf, attesting the safety accommodation is for a reason approved by VESSA.

Establishments must notify associates of their rights under VESSA by Oct. 27. Employers need to immediately update employee handbooks, create necessary forms and provide management training.

Lynne Haggerman holds a master of science in industrial organizational psychology and is president/owner of Lynne Haggerman & Associates LLC, specializing in management training, retained search, outplacement and human resource consulting. She can be reached at lynne@lynnehaggerman.com.

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