EMPLOYMENT LAW ADVISOR – VICTIMS OF DOMESTIC VIOLENCE
Domestic violence is an issue that should be in the forefront of everyone’s mind. Whether it manifests itself in high profile instances as we have seen repeatedly in the NFL or whether it is committed quietly, in the sanctity of one’s own home. Domestic violence exerts a tragic toll not only upon its victims, but it may have a spill- 0ver effect in the workplace as well.
In Illinois, the legislature has passed the Victims’ Economic Security and Safety Act (“VESSA”). The Act applies to Illinois employers of 50 or more and provides for specified leave rights and other accommodations to victims of domestic and sexual abuse or violence. Briefly set out below are the key components of VESSA that all qualifying employers should be aware of.
Mirroring the FMLA’s provisions, VESSA provides employees who are victims of domestic and/or sexual abuse or violence (and employees who have family or household members who have been exposed to such abuse or violence) up to a total of 12 weeks of unpaid leave, without loss of benefits or seniority and with continuing health insurance benefits, to deal with a variety of issues relating to the abuse or violence to which they have been or are being exposed. The leave time (which runs concurrently with any other available leave time) can be used, for example, to seek medical treatment or counseling, obtain social services, seek legal assistance, participate in legal proceedings, or temporarily or permanently relocate for safety purposes. At the end of the leave, the victim must be restored to his/her same or an equivalent position.
Employees must provide 48 hours notice of the need for leave, or as much notice as is practicable under the circumstances. At the employer’s request, the employee must also provide certification (from the police, a doctor, clergy, or someone else from whom the employee or family member has sought assistance) or other corroborating evidence of the need and reason for the leave.
Employers also must provide certain reasonable accommodations to employees who are victims of such abuse or violence to assist them in deflecting or minimizing the effects of the abuse or violence. VESSA requires consideration of measures such as changing telephone numbers, changing location within or outside of an office or work area, making schedule changes, installing locks or implementing other safety or security procedures. It is important that employers recognize their obligations in this respect and cooperate with eligible employees in reaching appropriate accommodations.
Employers are required not only grant these leave and accommodation rights, but also are prohibited from discriminating or retaliating against an individual who is, or who is perceived to be, a victim of domestic or sexual violence or who exercises his/her rights under the Act. Additionally, employers may not take any action against an employee because the workplace has been disrupted or threatened by the actions of a person whom the employee states has committed or has threatened to commit domestic or sexual violence against the employee or the employee’s family or household member.
VESSA’s anti-discrimination, retaliation, and reasonable accommodation provisions apply to job applicants as well as current employees, and to both actual and perceived victims of abuse or violence.
Notice Requirements and Penalties
VESSA requires employers to post a notice prepared by the Illinois Department of Labor that explains employees’ and job applicants’ rights under the law and the procedures for filing a charge under the Act.
Employers found to be in violation of the Act are liable for any lost wages, benefits, or other compensation the employee lost as a result of the violation, as well as reasonable attorneys’ fees and expert witness fees. They also may be ordered to provide other relief, such as hiring or reinstating the victim, promoting him/her, or providing specific reasonable accommodations.
With over 30 years’ experience in advising employers and employees on workplace issues, such as digital era issues, let Boznos Law work with you to ensure you are ready to meet the challenges posed by domestic violence as it may impact business operations. Call Bill Boznos today at (630) 375-1958 or contact us at www.boznoslawoffice.com/contact-us through our website at www.boznoslawoffice.com