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Bill Introduced to Expand FMLA Protections to Victims of Domestic Violence

Congresswoman Lynn Woolsey recently introduced the Domestic Violence Leave Act, which if passed, would expand the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”) to provide eligible employees the right to take unpaid leave from work if he or she or a family member fall victim to domestic abuse, sexual assault or stalking.

The FMLA requires that certain employers provide up to 12 weeks of job protection with continued group health covered to eligible employees. In order to be subjected to the FMLA, a private employer must have 50 employees during 20 or more calendar workweeks in the current or proceeding year. Public employers are subjected to the FMLA regardless of the number of employees. In order for an employee to be eligible for FMLA protection, he or she must have been employed for at least 12 months and must have worked at least 1,250 hours for the preceding 12 months for the employer. If the employee meets the eligible requirements, he or she is entitled to take unpaid leave from work for the birth or adoption of a child or a serious health condition. The FMLA also permits an employee to take unpaid leave from work to care for a family member who is suffering from a serious health condition. At the end of a FMLA protected leave, the employer must restore the employee to the same or equivalent position with equivalent benefits, pay and job status. The FMLA prohibits the employee from interfering with or retaliating against the employee for needing or taking FMLA leave.

The Domestic Violence Act seeks to expand FMLA to permit eligible employees the right to take unpaid leave as a result of domestic abuse, sexual assault or stalking. The bill would also permit an employee to take unpaid leave from work so that they can care for a family member who is a victim of domestic violence, sexual assault or stalking. The employee would be able to use the leave for a variety of reasons relating to the domestic violence such as to seek medical attention for sustained injuries, seek legal assistance or remedies, participate in legal proceedings, attend support groups, obtain counseling and participate in safety planning.

In introducing the bill, Rep. Woolsey said, “Domestic violence is a widespread problem affecting millions of people in the United States, men and woman. My bill ensures that those who have suffered abuse have the time to recover, physically and emotionally, without losing the job that supports them and their family.”

Many states have already enacted similar laws to provide job protection to victims of domestic violence, including California, Florida, Illinois, Washington and Washington DC. This is second time Rep. Woolsey has introduced the bill, the first being in May, 2009, which ultimately failed in Congress. Rep. Woolsey is also credited with introducing the Supporting Military Families Act that that expanded the FMLA to provide up to twenty-six (26) weeks of unpaid leave to care for a seriously injured or ill veteran if the veteran was injured or became ill while on active duty or if their symptoms manifested within five (5) years of their active duty. We will have to stay tuned to see if this common sense bill becomes law.