On August 28, 2021, Missouri (MO) passed the Victims Economic Safety and Security Act (VESSA), which extends unpaid, job-protected leave and safety accommodations to employees, or their family members, who are victims of domestic violence or sexual abuse. This article provides an overview of VESSA and highlights key employer requirements.
Covered Employers & Eligible Employees
VESSA applies to all employers in MO with 20 or more MO employees. MO employees that work for a covered employer are entitled to VESSA leave, safety accommodations, and protections.
Qualifying Reasons for VESSA Leave
An employee who is, or has a family or household member who is, the victim of domestic or sexual violence may request a job protected leave to address such violence for the following qualifying reasons:
- Seeking medical attention for, or recovering from, physical or psychological injuries caused by such violence;
- Obtaining services from a victim services organization;
- Obtaining psychological counseling;
- Participating in safety planning, temporary or permanently relocating, or taking other actions to increase the safety of the employee or employee’s family or household member; or
- Seeking legal assistance or remedies to ensure health and safety.
VESSA defines a family or household member to include spouses, parents, persons related by blood or by present or prior marriage, persons who share a relationship through a son or daughter, and persons that reside in the same household.
Amount of Leave
The amount of leave required depends on employer size, as follows:
- Employers with 20-49 MO employees: up to one workweek (based on the employee’s standard workweek) of unpaid leave per 12-month period.
- Employers with 50 or more MO employees: up to two workweeks of unpaid leave per 12-month period.
Documentation and Employee Notice to Employer
An employee seeking leave under VESSA is required to provide at least 48 hours advance notice unless notice is not practicable. Employers may, but are not required to, request documentation certifying leave is for a VESSA qualifying reason. If an employer does require certification, employees may satisfy the certification requirement with a sworn statement from the employee and one of the following forms of documentation:
- documentation from an employee, agent or volunteer of a victim services organization, attorney, member of the clergy, or medical or other professional who provided assistance to the employee or the employee’s family or household member;
- a police or court record; or
- other corroborating evidence.
Employers may require periodic reports about the employee’s intent to return to work while an employee is on VESSA leave. Employers must maintain confidentiality of any collected documentation.
Employers Must Provide Safety Accommodations
In addition to providing protected leave, covered employers are required to make “reasonable safety accommodations” for an employee who is, or has a family/household member who is, the victim of violence unless an accommodation would cause the employer undue hardship.
Reasonable accommodation is defined as “an adjustment to a job structure, workplace facility, or work requirement, including a transfer, reassignment, modified schedule, leave, a changed telephone number or seating assignment, installation of a lock, implementation of a safety procedure, or assistance in documenting domestic violence that occurs at the workplace or in work-related settings, in response to actual or threatened domestic violence.”
Under VESSA, an accommodation imposes an undue hardship if it causes the employer significant difficulty or expense in light of the nature and cost of the accommodation.
Notice Posting Requirements
Employers were required to provide their MO employees notice of their rights under VESSA initially by October 27, 2021 and must post the notice issued by the MO Department of Labor at the workplace. After October 27, 2021, employers are required to issue the VESSA notice to all newly hired employees.
VESSA includes an anti-retaliation provision and grants employees the right to take leave free from discrimination or retaliation as it relates to pay, position, benefits, and other terms and conditions of employment.
Employers must maintain the group health plan for the duration of the VESSA protected leave and must restore an employee to their position following a VESSA leave.
Employers with 20 or more MO employees should:
- Provide the required notice to MO employees (if they have not already done so);
- Post the required poster at workplaces;
- While not required, employers are nonetheless encouraged to include a VESSA policy in any employee handbook;
- Issue the required notice to new hires; and
- Train managers, supervisors, and human resource personnel on VESSA qualifying leave and requirements.