Connecticut employers having three or more employees are now subject to a new law mandating time off for employees who are victims of domestic violence. The new law, which became effective in late 2010, affects employers in two important respects. First, an employer may not penalize, threaten or otherwise coerce an employee regarding any aspect of her employment because the employee is a victim of family violence or must attend court proceedings related to a civil case in which the employee is a family violence victim.

Second, the law mandates that an employer must allow a victim of family violence up to 12 days of leave during any calendar year in which the leave is reasonably needed for one or more of the following reasons: (1) to seek medical care or counseling for physical or psychological injury or disability, (2) to obtain services from a victim services organization, (3) to relocate due to family violence, or (4) to participate in any civil or criminal proceeding related to family violence.

The new law specifies that it cannot be construed to require an employer to provide paid leave if the employee is not otherwise entitled to such leave. However, an employer can require that the employee apply unused vacation time or personal days to the leave period. Employers should also recognize that the obligations imposed by this new law are in addition to leave afforded employees under any other federal or state statutes, such as the Family and Medical Leave Act.

An employer is entitled to take certain steps to verify an employee’s request for time off under the statute. The employer may require that the employee provide a copy of a police or court record related to the family violence. In the alternative, the employer may request a signed written statement from an employee of the Court’s Office of Victim Services, from the State’s Office of the Victim Advocate or from any licensed medical professional or other licensed professional from whom the employee has sought assistance related to the family violence. The employee is also required to provide at least seven days notice of the request for time off when the reason is foreseeable and to provide notice “as soon as practicable” when the need for leave is not foreseeable.

If an employer violates the new law, the employee has 180 days from the occurrence of the violation to file a civil action in court. The employee does not have to file his or her claim first with the Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities (CHRO), but rather can file directly in State Superior Court. If the employee prevails, the Court must award the employee’s reasonable attorney’s fees.

While this new law does not require that employers publish a written policy or otherwise provide notice of the law to employees, it is still advisable that employers amend their policies and procedures to address the provisions of this law. In this new environment, it will be crucial for employers, large and small, to understand their newly defined legal obligations to employees that are the victims of domestic violence in order to facilitate and encourage a productive workforce while also effectively managing their legal risk.

This publication is a service to our clients and friends. It is designed only to give general information on the development actually covered. It is not intended to be a comprehensive summary of recent developments in the law, to treat exhaustively the subjects covered, or to provide legal advice or render a legal opinion.

Please contact Scott Centrella, head of our employment litigation group, if you have questions or require more detailed information.