New Missouri Law Requires Employers to Provide Unpaid Leave & Other Accommodations for Victims of Domestic or Sexual Violence

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Effective August 28, 2021, Missouri employers with at least 20 Missouri employees must provide unpaid leave for employees who are victims of domestic or sexual violence (as defined by state statute) or have family or household members who are victims of such violence. Covered employers must also notify current employees of their right to leave under the law by October 27, 2021 (or upon commencement of employment for future employees).

The new law—titled the Victims Economic Safety and Security Act (VESSA)—provides employees with protected leave time to: seek abuse-related medical attention and counseling, or recover from abuse-related injuries (physical or psychological); obtain services from a victim services organization; participate in safety planning; temporarily or permanently relocate to a safer living space, or take other actions to increase the safety of the employee (or family or household member); and/or pursue legal remedies to ensure the health and safety of the employee (or family or household member), including preparing for civil and criminal actions resulting from the violence. Of note, not only may employees take VESSA leave relating to their own experience with domestic or sexual violence, they may also take leave to deal with such abuse suffered by a “family or household member,” including individuals who reside in the same household as the employee, immediate family members (by blood or marriage), and people who “share a relationship through a son or daughter.”

Similar to the FMLA and other protected leave frameworks, an employee who takes VESSA leave must be returned to the same (or other equivalent) position upon their return to work, and the employer may not deprive them of any employment benefits they had before the leave. Unique to VESSA, the amount of leave available will vary depending on the employer’s number of employees. Specifically:

  • 1-19 employees = no leave entitlement
  • 20-49 employees = 1 week unpaid leave per year
  • 50 or more employees = 2 weeks unpaid leave per year

The employee’s VESSA leave need not be used on consecutive days, but the employee is required to give the employer at least 48-hour notice of anticipated leave usage. If prior notice is not practicable under the circumstances, the employee may provide a certification that their unscheduled absence was VESSA-related within a “reasonable period” after the absence (though “reasonable period” is not defined in the statute). Employers may require employee certification of the reason for leave in either situation and may request periodic updates from the employee regarding their expected return date. Types of permissible employee certification are outlined in the statute.

In addition to leave, employers must provide reasonable safety accommodations to employees affected by domestic or sexual violence to the employee (or their family or household member) so long as the accommodation does not pose an undue hardship on the employer’s operations. The statute provides that “reasonable safety accommodations” include actions such as adjustment to a job structure, work facility, or work requirement—for example, transfer, reassignment, modified schedule, leave, a changed telephone number or seating assignment, installation of a lock, implementation of a safety procedure, or assistance in documenting actual or threatened domestic violence that occurs in the workplace or work-related settings. In determining whether a safety accommodation is reasonable, employers may consider any exigent circumstances or danger facing the employee or their family or household member. Employers may require employees who request safety accommodations to provide a written statement (signed by the employee or an individual acting on the employee’s behalf) certifying that the accommodation is for an authorized purpose.

Finally, as noted above, covered employers must notify all current employees of their rights under the law on or before October 27, 2021 (or upon commencement of employment for future employees). The new law does not contain a penalty for failure to comply with the notice requirement, but compliance is relatively straightforward to achieve and may be provided to employees electronically. The Missouri Department of Labor and Industrial Relations has also published a poster that must be posted in common areas along with other required employee notices.

Employers should take action to implement VESSA-related leave and accommodations policies, and prepare to meet the notice requirement on or before October 27, 2021. In addition, employers should educate and train supervisors on identifying situations that may trigger an obligation to provide VESSA leave or accommodations to employees.

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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