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New protections for domestic violence victims have hidden pitfalls for employers

Tuesday evening, March 25, the Missouri Senate debated Senate Bill 712, sponsored by Senator Gina Walsh (D-13, St. Louis County). The published goal of the bill is noble enough: to provide domestic violence victims time off from work so they may attend legal proceedings in connection with prosecuting their attackers.  After 48 hours prior notice, an employer would be required to provide the domestic violence victim with unpaid time off for that purpose.  Most of us that defend employers in the Missouri Capitol had no problem with that part of the bill and we paid little attention to the bill or its companion bill, House Bill 1717, sponsored by Rep. Jill Schupp (D-88, St. Louis County). Until we read the details of the bill.

Senator Brad Lager (R-12, Andrew County) noted during debate of the bill late Tuesday night that SB 712 would in fact establish a new protected class of employee for domestic violence victims and allow them to sue their employer if they believe they have been discriminated against.  There is no time limit on this protection.  Given the courts’ low standard of proof that is required to prove discrimination cases, this language is particularly troubling.  An employer that takes any action against a domestic violence victim at any point in the future could face a lawsuit, even though the action is not related at all to the time taken off work to address the legal situation arising from the domestic violence situation.

The bill also requires employers to provide “reasonable accommodations” to victims of domestic violence, but the language is so broad, it applies to members of the victim’s family and also leaves employers legally exposed for additional legal action.  We believe most employers would provide reasonable accommodations to such victims voluntarily – they don’t need a law to tell them to do so.

Senator Lager is working with Senator Walsh to clean up the bill and remove these provisions from an otherwise decent bill.  While employers would probably have no problem providing these victims time off to pursue legal remedies against their attackers, we don’t want to unnecessarily lay employers open for additional lawsuits in the process.

Thanks to Senator Lager and his staff for looking out for the interests of Missouri employers.

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