For the first time, the state of Florida has passed a leave law that affects the private sector. The newly minted Domestic Violence Leave Law provides time off to employees who suffer domestic abuse, or who have family or household members who have been abused. It covers all employers with 50 or more employees.
The law requires employers to grant up to three days of domestic abuse leave annually, as long as workers have been employed for at least three months. Employers can decide whether to make it paid or unpaid leave. The law took effect July 1.
When leave may be taken
The new law provides covered em-ployees with rights to leave under specific circumstances. Covered employees may take leave to:
- Seek an injunction for protection against domestic or sexual violence.
- Get medical care, counseling or both to address injuries resulting from domestic violence.
- Obtain services from victim organizations, such as domestic violence shelters or rape crisis centers.
- Secure a home against the domestic violence perpetrator or find a new home to escape the perpetrator.
- Seek legal assistance to address domestic violence issues, or attend or prepare for domestic violence-related court proceedings.
Employees must provide employers with “appropriate advance notice” of the need for leave, unless doing so would create imminent danger to the health or safety of the employee or member of the employee’s family.
Legislators made the notice requirement particularly flexible. Domestic violence incidents are frenetic, spontaneous affairs that do not lend themselves to proper planning. However, employers may reasonably expect notice for medical appointments, especially mental health appointments and court appearances.
Designating domestic violence leave
Florida employers will have to designate leave as domestic violence leave on a case-by-case basis. Unlike the, the law places no time requirement on employers for the designation. But some domestic violence leave may also be .
Employees who seek medical care or counseling may have a serious medical condition as defined by the FMLA. Employees who tend to children injured in domestic violence incidents or attend a child’s domestic violence-related counseling session may meet the FMLA’s definition of caring for an immediate family member with a serious health condition.
As with any other FMLA-related absence, employees do not have to ask for FMLA leave, but employers must designate the leave as being FMLA leave or not within two business days of being notified of the leave.
Florida’s new law expands the scope of information employers must keep confidential. In addition to medical information that employers must safeguard under the FMLA, Florida employers must also protect information concerning an employee’s domestic abuse.
Confidentiality in domestic violence cases is crucial. Some breaches could be potentially deadly. Employers should never reveal a domestic victim’s location to anyone. Supervisors only need to know that the leave is approved, and that the employee should not be punished for taking it.
The law has all the usual prohibitions against interfering with or preventing employees from exercising their rights under its provisions. Additionally, employers may face stiff penalties if they retaliate against employees who have asserted their rights under the law.
Employees who feel their employers have violated their rights under the law may sue them in Florida state circuit court for lost wages or reinstatement.
Final note: Always consult state laws and coordinate FMLA leave policies with those laws. Some laws, for example, define “family” differently than the FMLA does. An attorney can offer specific guidance.
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