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Proposal would allow domestic violence victims to take unpaid leave

Special to the Legal News

Published: December 23, 2013

A pair of state lawmakers have reintroduced a bill into the legislature designed to give employees time to handle domestic violence issues.

House Bill 297, sponsored by Reps. Anne Gonzales, R-Westerville, and Denise Driehaus, D-Cincinnati, would permit an employee who is a victim of domestic violence to take unpaid leave for purposes relating to the incident of domestic violence.

“Unfortunately, victims may fear they may lose their job for taking time off to go to court and address their medical issues,” Gonzales said, adding that the leave proposed under the bill is similar to that of the Family Medical Leave Act where an employer may require an employee to utilize their vacation time before they utilize this new type of leave.

HB 297 states that an employee who is a victim of domestic violence may take time off of work to do any of the following: file a petition or motion under domestic violence or stalking laws or for a protection order; attend a hearing or proceeding related to such a petition or charges; receive medical attention related to an act of domestic violence; meet with law enforcement officers regarding an act of domestic violence; or meet with an attorney, counselor, social worker, victim advocate, health care provider or other professional who assists victims of domestic violence.

While the bill calls on victims to make “reasonable efforts” to handle their matters during non-work hours, it would permit employees with less than a year of service to take up to three days of unpaid leave. Individuals who have been employed a year or longer could take up to five days off.

Gonzales said that at least 25 states have some sort of protection for victims of domestic violence.

“It is important to ensure that these victims are able to seek the justice that they deserve with out fearing for their jobs,” she said.

The bill would require an employee to give their employer “as much notice as practicable” before taking unpaid leave.

In the last General Assembly, former State Rep. Dennis Murray championed the proposal as House Bill 105.

Driehaus was a co-sponsor of that measure, which stalled after one committee hearing.

Gonzales said the bill also aims to clarify the laws and procedures relating to the redress of wrongful termination if a victim uses the leave under the bill.

A summary of HB 297 states that if an employer terminates the employment of a person who takes unpaid leave pursuant to the bill because the employee took unpaid leave, the employee may file a civil action against the employer in the common pleas court of the county of that employment.

“The civil action is the employee’s sole and exclusive remedy,” the summary states. “The only relief that the court may grant is reinstatement of the employee’s employment with back pay plus reasonable attorney’s fees. The action is barred if not filed within 180 days immediately following the termination.”

In addition to addressing unpaid leave, HB 297 would prohibit a county, municipal corporation, township or law enforcement agency from charging a fee to a domestic violence victim for assisting the victim.

The measure also would allow victims to terminate a rental agreement or have their name removed from a rental agreement under certain circumstances or require a housing authority to transfer a victim if they request.

“We want to ensure that a victim is no longer tied to their attacker by means of a lease,” Gonzales said. “We also want to ensure if a victim chooses to stay, they are allowed to change the locks of their apartment. There is no point in removing an attacker from the lease if they still have a key. Either the landlord or the tenant may change the locks so long as the victim provides an approved document.”

The cost of the lock change would be at the victim’s expense either from their own pocket or taken out of their security deposit.

Gonzales said HB 297 is rooted in protecting the housing and employment rights of domestic violence victims.

“This bill is designed to give victims the time and tools that they need to address both the medical and legal issues that can develop after an incident of domestic violence,” she said.

“We are in the process of holding interested party meetings and will continue to work to ensure that we have the most effective language that addresses these key issues.”

HB 297 is co-sponsored by nearly 20 House members. The bill is before the House Judiciary committee.

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