Unfortunately it sometimes takes a tragedy such as the recent shooting of Nadia Ezaldein at Nordstrom store by her ex-boyfriend, Marcus Dee, to make us as business owners think about what we could have done to prevent this from happening in our place of business. Fortunately, the State of Illinois has 2 little known laws in place that can offer both employees and employers some added protection from domestic violence and abuse in the workplace. These are the Victims’ Economic Security and Safety Act (VESSA) and the Workplace Violence Prevention Act.
Initially enacted in 2003 and amended in 2009, VESSA provides that employers with 15 to 49 employees must allow affected employees to take up to 8 weeks of unpaid leave, and employers with 50 or more employees must allow up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave during a 12- month period. The employer can ask for documentation such as a sworn statement by the employee, police or court records or medical documentation in the case of physical abuse. The employee must give at least 48 hours’ notice of the intention to take VESSA leave except in emergency situations. The employers must provide reasonable accommodations such as transfers, adjustment to job requirements or documentation of any abuse that takes place at work.
This may sound like a penalty to the employer rather than a helpful law. However it helps in many ways. It allows an otherwise non-productive employee time to heal both physically and mentally and then come back to work as a productive employee. It also, reduces potential violence in the workplace by helping the victim of domestic abuse deal with the situation at home or with the courts. The employer is not required to pay the employee for time off for court dates or hospital visits, etc., just accommodate the time off.
On January 1, 2014, the Workplace Violence Prevention Act became law. This law gives employers the right to obtain a restraining order against documented domestic abusers of their employees and disgruntled former employees. Credible proof of violence and a potential threat to employees in the workplace must be provided through an affidavit in order to receive a workplace restraining order.
If your business is aware of potential violence in the workplace, know your rights and the rights of your employees. Make sure that you are posting the required notices for both Acts in a public area, such as a break room or locker room. Being proactive, with full knowledge of potential threats will reduce potential occurrences in your business and keep your employees safer.
Written by: Kerry Rieder-McLaughlin, HR Consultant, Law Offices of McLaughlin & Associates